When we are talking to investors, there is a lot of talk about “the team”. That is important, because only the right team, which is skilled, motivated and passionate, can execute a vision properly. In the end, most startups fail because the team stops working together. So it’s important to have the right team on board.
However, I truly believe: Every Team Member Must Be Replaceable
Don’t get me wrong, it is important to get key personnel on board. It is essential to have the right person for the right job. And it is very important to do your best to keep that talent in your company for as long as possible.
That being said, it is absolutely essential to build a sustainable business that functions whether you have this key personnel on board or not on board. At first, this might sound contradictory to the belief that key personnel is essential to the success of a business, but if you give it a deeper thought, it is actually in line with it.
Let me give you an example: I am German. I grew up in Germany and got my degree in Computer Science there, before leaving for China 10 years ago. In Germany the common Computer Science degree holder stays with the same company for an average of 11 years. That’s a quite recent statistic, by the way. Perhaps that’s related to the labour market in Germany or to the not so attractive opportunities in other jobs or it’s just the nature of the Germans; who knows. In Hong Kong however, the labour market is very flexible. There is a lot of competition here and we small startups compete for talent with large multi-national corporations that have deeper pockets. Furthermore, especially the younger generation is in many ways more flaky. They might leave 1 month, 1 year, 2 years after you hire them. What do you do then?
It doesn’t matter if you run a startup or an established company. You never ever want to be in the situation that the departure of some of your key personnel causes an implosion of your business. Remember? Most companies fail because their team stops functioning together.
I recently wrote a blog post about my thoughts on A Product Doesn’t Equal A Business. When you are working on building your startup into a real business, many pieces need to fit together. I believe, one of the most important pieces is: You must make sure, everyone in your business is (more or less) easily replaceable. That includes all employees, key personnel and even the founders themselves. You can not allow to end up in a situation where a key person leaves and your business suddenly can not function anymore. May that person leave due to professional or personal reasons or you have to let go of him/her or *knock-on-wood* due to health reasons. Who knows, anything can happen.
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