How to Build a Core Dev Team in Startup

Quick Summary - Team problems are one of the most common reasons startups collapse. Both a crew of low-skilled specialists and IT stars can fail. How to build a core team successfully and what criteria to focus on to make the idea work.

According to research, 9 out of 10 startups fail. And the team problems are one of the three main reasons for the collapse. This preempts even such a common cause as financial difficulties.

4 mins read

January 27, 2023

Let’s imagine the situation in a startup. The release is already on the horizon. But the team members still do not fully understand the scope of their responsibility, they do not know deeply enough how to perform tasks. Therefore they act chaotically, hoping that in case of failure the CTO will redo everything. As a result, all the work falls on one person. So the technical director quickly burns out and leaves the project.

This is not a terrible dream of a startup founder, but a collective image of real cases of a hastily assembled team.

Or here is the opposite situation, which is quoted in an article for Harvard Business Review. Resumes of a certain software company’s team were impressive. All key participants had extensive experience and successful performances at tech giants. However, it turned out that they had different visions of strategic goals and priorities. Some of the star employees were more interested in their side projects, and some were already looking for a new job. Despite the significant experience of the members, the team quickly fell apart.

According to research, 9 out of 10 startups fail. And the team problems are one of the three main reasons for the collapse. This preempts even such a common cause as financial difficulties.

The main reasons for startups failure

What is the core team in a startup and how to assemble it?

The core team is a group of specialists who work on the implementation of a specific product or idea. This model provides an integrated approach to the development of solutions, where all specialists have joint accountability and share responsibility for the success of the idea. 

There is no universal recipe for creating a core team. It depends on the budget, goals and type of project. But here are a few key points to consider.

  • Team size 

How many people should be in the core team? Too many employees complicate management, slow down the process and can drag the project to the bottom. Too few participants are likely to be overwhelmed, burn out, and make mistakes.

Speaking about the size of teams, it is impossible not to recall the famous “two-pizza rule” by Jeff Bezos. As you might guess from the rule name, Amazon’s founder claims that a team should be small enough to be fed with two pizzas.

It is difficult to say whether 8 people will be satisfied with such a number of pizzas, but this figure is most often mentioned by analysts and practitioners of the sector as the optimal size of the core team. But, depending on the stage and the type of the project, even 3 people may be enough. For calculating the optimal number for your team, you should at least cross out all duplicate functions.

  • Specialists

The core team of developers in a startup are those people who will turn an idea into reality with the help of their programming skills.

If the startup founder has a technical education and experience, then at the initial stage of development and pitching of the idea, it may be enough to involve a single programmer and designer for a presentation. 

But if the founder is not an experienced specialist in a certain field, then the first member of the team involved should be the technical director. This person can take over the technical part and help assemble the rest of the team professionally.

At the stage of growing a startup from just an idea to a functioning business and attracting funds, more “players” are needed. 

Members of the core dev team

Additional temporary specialists may be also involved at various stages. An extended team supports the main one, can change depending on the stage – design, test or launch – and exists only as long as its specific functions are necessary. Besides the development team, the startup also needs a marketer, business analyst, sales manager, etc.

  • Shared vision

Gathering suitable specialists with relevant experience is only half the job. The studies show that the high qualification of team members is not always a guarantee of the success of a startup. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, the surveyed startups with high levels of employee experience and low to moderate levels of shared vision and entrepreneurial passion showed low performance. In contrast, a medium level of experience but high motivation and collective vision led to better results. The researchers came to the conclusion that due to lack of a shared understanding of the company’s future, experienced specialists do not want to invest their knowledge in its development.

How to make your core team successful

  • Pay attention to soft skills

Although it may seem that a talented techie does not necessarily have to be the soul of the party, a lack of communication skills can destroy a team. Colleagues must be able to peacefully resolve controversial issues, adequately respond to criticism, and take responsibility for the outcome.

  • Implement KPIs 

Key Performance Indicator is an index of work productivity. The implemented system helps to set and perform tasks at the level both of the company and of each employee. The use of KPI supports the motivation of team members and structures the work.

  • Invest in employee training

No matter how experienced the specialists are, the work in the IT industry requires constant development. Provide your team with access to cutting-edge knowledge, participation in industry conferences and other opportunities to improve skills.

  • Create a healthy work environment

“Toxic” management is one of the common reasons for programmers to quit. There were cases when an entire project was about to fail because the employee was simply afraid to inform the project manager about the existing problem. Being able to openly discuss work issues and the possibility to receive adequate feedback are the vital components of the team’s success.

In PerceptionBox, we know well how to hire highly qualified programmers with sufficient soft skills. We also have extensive experience in supporting teams. Our figure is over 90% of retained employees over the past 2 years. Contact us to start building the most effective core team for your startup.


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