What’s the best way to form your initial team?

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Before the Startup

You can, however, trust your instincts about people. And in fact one of the most common mistakes young founders make is not to do that enough. They get involved with people who seem impressive, but about whom they feel some misgivings personally. Later when things blow up they say “I knew there was something off about him, but I ignored it because he seemed so impressive. “

Ben Erez (Product at Breeze)
22 Mistakes I Made as a First Time Founder — Viabilify

The first few months starting a company with your friends is an absolute blast. I mean who wouldn’t want their daily schedule to revolve around hanging out with their best friends? As it turns out, if after a few months little to no significant progress has been made, you start getting over the whole “working with friends” thing.

Ben Yoskovitz (VP Product at VarageSale, VP Product at GoInstant (acquired by Salesforce), Author of Lean Analytics)
Single Founders or Co-Founders?

Why are 2+ founders (potentially) better? For me it’s about the camaraderie and partnership that emerges when two (or more) people decide to go on such an incredible journey together. And when the going gets tough (and it always does), it’s nice to have someone sitting beside you in the dark who knows exactly how you feel.

Ben Yoskovitz (VP Product at VarageSale, VP Product at GoInstant (acquired by Salesforce), Author of Lean Analytics)
Single Founders or Co-Founders?

So what about single founders? Single founders have an advantage in that they don’t need to build consensus with other founders. They may need to bring in additional senior talent, often on the technical side (which has its own challenges), but they’re 100% in control. There’s something just simpler about it overall.

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Which is better, single founder or co-founders? | A Founder’s Notebook

Seeking Alpha is a sole founder startup, but I’ve found that my relationships with some key people have developed into co-founder-like relationships

David Cummings (Managing Partner at Shotput Ventures)
Startups Should Say No to 99% of Partnership Opportunities | David Cummings on Startups

Startups should say no to 99% of partnership opportunities. Most partnerships never go anywhere and don’t make sense for the startup to invest significant effort into the relationship due to being time and money constrained. Partnership opportunities do make sense when there is significant skin in the game on behalf of the partner (e. g. large up-front fees) or a super minimal way to work together (e. g. less than 20 hours of work to get somethin… (read more)

Dharmesh Shah (Co-founder and CTO of HubSpot)
Happy Birthday HubSpot! 9 Lessons From Our First 9 Years

Don’t defer the hard co-founder questions for later. They only get harder. Have the important conversation(s) with your co-founder early. Topics might include long-term goals, fund-raising, equity allocation, vesting, etc. I’ve written an entire article with some of the questions co-founders should ask each other.

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Why startup founders should learn to code | A Founder’s Notebook

Startup founders should learn to code

Jason Lemkin (Managing Director at Storm Ventures, SaaStr.com)
Jason Lemkin: The Right Metrics For Your SaaS Startup | InsightSquared

It’s going to be a 7 to 10 year journey. Take your time. First, whatever you do, make sure you get the right team. As we’ve talked about, going it alone is really tough.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Startups in 13 Sentences

Pick good cofounders. Cofounders are for a startup what location is for real estate. You can change anything about a house except where it is. In a startup you can change your idea easily, but changing your cofounders is hard. [1] And the success of a startup is almost always a function of its founders.

Sam Altman (President at Y Combinator)
Non-technical founder? Learn to hack – Sam Altman

When non-technical solo founders say “I’ll do whatever it takes to make this business successful” (which they almost always say), I say something like “Why not learn to hack? Although it takes many, many years to become a great hacker, you can learn to be good enough to build your site or app in a few months.

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
The danger of sole founder startups | A Founder’s Notebook

Seeking Alpha is a sole founder company. But we’re doing really well. Which makes me wonder what the problem is with sole founders, and how we mitigated that.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Why to Not Not Start a Startup

If you don’t have a cofounder, what should you do? Get one. It’s more important than anything else. If there’s no one where you live who wants to start a startup with you, move where there are people who do. If no one wants to work with you on your current idea, switch to an idea people want to work on.

Ron Conway (Founder & Co-Managing Partner @ SV Angel)
Ron Conway, Mike Maples Jr. – Angel Investing Revealed by Stanford eCorner | Free Listening on SoundCloud

There’s almost no companies with a single founder. Find some other people who are like-minded.

Slava Akhmechet (Founder at RethinkDB)
57 startup lessons

Split the stock between the founding team evenly.

Slava Akhmechet (Founder at RethinkDB)
57 startup lessons

Always have a vesting schedule.

Ryan Howard (Founder @ Practice Fusion)
Transcript: Protecting yourself as the founder; Ryan Howard | VatorNews

Secondly, along the same vein, if you’re starting the company with co-founders, you want to have clear vesting and rules for termination. If you have other co-founders, you should have rules where if something’s not going right, if they’re not showing up for work, that you guys have as adults, put something together. If you have a co-founder that’s no longer showing up, but they own half the company, that can be hugely problematic. Also, I’ve see… (read more)

Ryan Howard (Founder @ Practice Fusion)
Transcript: Protecting yourself as the founder; Ryan Howard | VatorNews

Your employment agreement – this is where the key and this is another place where I made a major mistake. My recommendation is some time you incorporate and sometime around the time you’re closing your Series-A financing that you come up and put together a robust employment agreement. If you think about your relationship with the company, you’re likely being engaged to that company longer than most of your personal relationships. This is more of … (read more)

Ryan Howard (Founder @ Practice Fusion)
Transcript: Protecting yourself as the founder; Ryan Howard | VatorNews

One of the key terms that should be in your employment contract is a cure provision. Effectively, a cure provision is that if there’s something wrong and the board wants to terminate you, you have time to actually mitigate it. They give you fair notice, you have a dialogue, you understand what the issue is and you have time to mitigate it. It’s an incredibly fair term in my opinion and something that should be in everyone’s employment contract.

Peter Thiel (Co-Founder & Partner at Founders Fund)
PAYPAL MAFIA: Reid Hoffman & Peter Thiel’s Master Class at CEIBS – YouTube

People often ask these questions about traits entrepreneurs have and I think they often have on these things are almost opposite traits that are almost combined. So you want to be very open minded but you also have to be somewhat stubborn. You want to iterate very quickly and change things very quickly but you also want to have some sort of a long-term strategy.

Phil Libin (Co-Founder & CEO of Evernote)
“The Six Crucial Questions for Every Startup Entrepreneur”, by Phil Libin (CEO of Evernote) on Vimeo

You very likely will work really really hard. The hardest you’ve ever worked. In your life, on an idea, for 3,5, 10 years and walk away with nothing. That is the most likely outcome. If you can get behind that. Then you should be an entreprenuer.

Lee Hower (General Partner of NextView Ventures)
Playing Startup – NextView Ventures

I fear a meaningful number of people are “playing startup” today. What I mean is that people are joining startups because working in a startup seems cool or lucrative, not because they want to change the world and they’re fundamentally committed to putting in all the blood, sweat, and tears that entails.

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
The Similarities Between Building and Scaling a Product and a Company – AVC

Putting together the initial team, creating the culture, instilling the mission and values into the team are all like designing and building the initial product. It is largely about injecting your ideas, values, and passion into the team. You do that by selecting the people carefully and then working hard to get them aligned around your vision and mission. Putting a product into the market and building your initial team are largely about realizin… (read more)

Ron Conway (Founder & Co-Managing Partner @ SV Angel)
Ron Conway, Mike Maples Jr. – Angel Investing Revealed by Stanford eCorner | Free Listening on SoundCloud

Start with three people, at the end of year one it shouldn’t more than 5 or 6. Companies are most productive when they are less than 10 people.

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
The Management Team – While Building Product – AVC

Building product is not about having a large team to manage. It is about having a small team with the right people on it. You need product, design, and software engineering skills on the team. And you need to be focused, committed, and driven. Management at this point is all about small team dynamics; everyone on board, working together, and getting stuff done. Strong individual contributors are key in this stage. Management skills are not a requ… (read more)

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
If You Aren’t Technical, Get Technical – AVC

A few years ago, I was doing some sort of public speaking thing and in the Q&A, a young man asked me for advice for founders who aren’t technical. I said, “If you aren’t technical, I suggest you get technical” And I meant it. I learned to code when I was a teenager. It wasn’t that hard. I think anyone who has the motivation to start a company can find the motivation to learn to code.

Aaron Patzer (Founder & CEO of Fountain, Mint)
Aaron Patzer lays bare Mint’s numbers – YouTube

I lived on less than 30k a year here in Silicon Valley [during the working in a garage phase of Mint.com]

What’s the best way to distribute employee equity?

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
Valuation and Option Pool – AVC

One of the more contentious things in the negotiation between an entrepreneur and a VC over a financing, particularly an early stage financing, is the inclusion of an option pool in the pre-money valuation. As my friend Mark Pincus likes to say, “it’s just another way to lower the price”.

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
Valuation and Option Pool – AVC

Let’s say that the VC’s term sheet says that a 15% “fully diluted post money” option pool needs to be in the pre-money valuation. What that means is that the investor wants 15% of the company, after the financing is closed, to be in an option pool that has not been granted to anyone. … The bottom line is the deal I described leaves the entrepreneur and his/her shareholders with 65% of the company after the financing, the VC investor will own 20… (read more)

Sam Altman (President at Y Combinator)
Employee Equity – Sam Altman

Its very difficult to put precise numbers on this because the specifics of every situation matter so much. I’ve seen some startups offer 5 or 6 year vesting schedules. To compensate for this, they offer above-market grants. Another structure I’ve seen is back-weighted vesting. For example, 10% of the grant vests after the first year, and then 20%, 30%, 40% in the following years.

Sam Altman (President at Y Combinator)
The Engineer Crunch – Sam Altman

Granting equity should be easy to do. I have never seen a startup regret being generous with equity for their early employees. I’ve noticed that mission-oriented companies have a much easier time recruiting.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
The Equity Equation

An investor wants to give you money for a certain percentage of your startup. Should you take it? You’re about to hire your first employee. How much stock should you give him? These are some of the hardest questions founders face. And yet both have the same answer: 1/(1 – n) Whenever you’re trading stock in your company for anything, whether it’s money or an employee or a deal with another company, the test for whether to do it is the same. You … (read more)

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
Employee Equity: Too Little? – AVC

Since I started in VC, the percentage of a company that non-founder employees owned was always in the 15-20% range after the team is fully built out. In recent years, I have seen that number creep up to the 20-25% range and if you extrapolate current trends out a few years, it could easily be 30%.

Babak Nivi (Co-founder of AngelList and Venture Hacks. Previously, he was an entrepreneur-in-residence at Bessemer Venture Partners and Atlas Venture.)
The Option Pool Shuffle – Venture Hacks

Title Range (%) [for after raising a Series A] CEO 5 – 10
COO 2 – 5
VP 1 – 2
Independent Board Member 1
Director 0.4 – 1.25
Lead Engineer 0.5 – 1
5+ years experience Engineer 0.33 – 0.66
Manager or Junior Engineer 0.2 – 0.33

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
Options and Offer Letters – AVC

What I generally suggest is that management have a standard options grant. It could be as simple as “everyone gets at least 1000 shares when they join, important role players get 5000 shares, directors get 10,000 shares, software engineers get 10,000 shares, senior software engineers get 20,000 shares, VPs get 50,000 shares. C level gets 100,000 shares” I just made that up. You should make one that makes sense to you.

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
Options and Offer Letters – AVC

I also suggest building an options budget. To do this you take your standard grant schedule, and then map it to your hiring and retention plan (I suggest granting options to current employees every two years as part of a retention plan) and then you will have an options budget for the next few years. That is a great thing to have.

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
Employee Equity – AVC

Where Andy [Rachleff] and I differ a bit is how to calculate how much equity should be granted. Andy suggests using market comps. I don’t like doing that because 0.1% of one company can be worth a lot more or less than 0.1% of another company. I prefer to issue equity based on a multiple of current cash comp divided by the current valuation of the business. I lay that all out in my Skillshare class.
While I don’t call out promotion and performan… (read more)

Sam Altman (President at Y Combinator)
Employee Equity – Sam Altman

Startups should give employees more stock. Value is created over many, many years. Founders certainly deserve a huge premium for starting the earliest, but probably not 100 or 200x what employee number 5 gets. Additionally, companies can now get more done with less people.

Sam Altman (President at Y Combinator)
Employee Equity – Sam Altman

As an extremely rough stab at actual numbers, I think a company ought to be giving at least 10% in total to the first 10 employees, 5% to the next 20, and 5% to the next 50. In practice, the optimal numbers may be much higher.

Babak Nivi (Co-founder of AngelList and Venture Hacks. Previously, he was an entrepreneur-in-residence at Bessemer Venture Partners and Atlas Venture.)
Are founders really 1000x more valuable than employees? – Venture Hacks

Is it fair for founders to own about 100% of a startup while employee #1 only owns a few percent? Are founders 10-1000x more valuable than employees? The answers are: Yes, it is fair. Value doesn’t matter, timing does. When the founders start the company, it is worth approximately $0. So their equity is worth $0. Let’s say the founders work for 6 months, make progress, and then raise money at a $10M post. Then employee #1 joins and gets 1% of the… (read more)

Ben Yoskovitz (VP Product at VarageSale, VP Product at GoInstant (acquired by Salesforce), Author of Lean Analytics)
Changing Equity Structures for Early Startup Employees

0.5-1% is just not a lot. Those first few hires – done correctly – will be so insanely critical for the success of your startup; I believe they deserve more.

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
Sizing Option Pools In Connection With Financings – AVC

Here’s a formula I like to use. Take the cumulative salaries of all the hires you need to make betwen the current financing and the next one. Let’s say it is five employees at an average of $75,000. Then that number is $375,000. Then divide that number by the post-money valuation, in this case $5mm. That gives you 7.5%. That’s the size of the option pool you’ll need. And it is conservative because I don’t recommend giving options equal to the dol… (read more)

Leo Polovets (General Partner @ Susa Ventures)
Analyzing AngelList Job Postings, Part 2: Salary and Equity Benchmarks · Coding VC

Equity:
Hire #1: 2% – 3% of equity
Hires #2 through #5: 1% – 2%
Hires #6 and #7: 0.5% – 1%
Hires #8 through #14: 0.4% – 0.8%
Hires #15 through #19: 0.3% – 0.7%
Hires #21 through #27: 0.25% – 0.6%
Hires #28 through #34: 0.25% – 0.5%
These ranges indicate the maximum equity amounts offered by companies.

Joel Spolsky (CEO @ Stack Exchange)
How much equity should a partner with a short-term commitment be entitled to? – Startups Stack Exchange

The most important principle: Fairness, and the perception of fairness, is much more valuable than owning a large stake. Almost everything that can go wrong in a startup will go wrong, and one of the biggest things that can go wrong is huge, angry, shouting matches between the founders as to who worked harder, who owns more, whose idea was it anyway, etc.

Joel Spolsky (CEO @ Stack Exchange)
How much equity should a partner with a short-term commitment be entitled to? – Startups Stack Exchange

Here’s the principle. As your company grows, you tend to add people in “layers”. The top layer is the first founder or founders. The second layer is the first real employees. For many companies, each “layer” will be approximately one year long. By the time your company is big enough to sell to Google or go public or whatever, you probably have about 6 layers: the founders and roughly five layers of employees. Each successive layer is larger. Ther… (read more)

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
Employee Equity: How Much? – AVC

For your first key hires, three, five, maybe as much as ten, you will probably not be able to use any kind of formula. Getting someone to join your dream before it is much of anything is an art not a science. And the amount of equity you need to grant to accomplish these hires is also an art and most certainly not a science.

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
Employee Equity: How Much? – AVC

Here are our default brackets:
Senior Team: 0.5x
Director Level: 0.25x
Key Functions: 0.1x
All Others: 0.05x

Then you multiply the employee’s base salary by the multiplier to get to a dollar value of equity. Let’s say your VP Product is making $175k per year. Then the dollar value of equity you offer them is 0.5 x $175k, which is equal to $87.5k. Let’s say a director level product person is making $125k. Then the dollar value of equity y… (read more)

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures; Investor in Twitter, Kickstarter, Etsy…)
Employee Equity: Dilution – AVC

The typical dilution path for founders and other holders of employee equity goes like this:
1) Founders start company and own 100% of the business in founders stock
2) Founders issue 5-10% of the company to the early employees they hire. This can be done in options but is often done in the form of restricted stock. Sometimes they even use “”founders stock”” for these hires. Let’s use 7.5% for our rolling dilution calculation. At this point the f… (read more)

Ryan Allis (Chairman & Co-Founder @ Connect, Former CEO of iContact (sold $170M))
Ryan Allis’s 1,284 slides on how to win life, Part 2 – Business Insider

What’s the best way to compensate your sales employee?

David Sacks (CEO at Zenefits)
New Sales Models – David Sacks, Founder and CEO of Yammer – YouTube

Just keep the balance of their base and variable pay set. So if they want an increase in their base, they also need an increase in their quota that they need to hit. Do they really want that added stress?

Andy Swan (Three time financial tech entreprenuer)
Commission plans — how to get them right | A Founder’s Notebook

Embrace the idea of salespeople making more than you do.

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
Commission plans — how to get them right | A Founder’s Notebook

The key is to sit down with finance, product and marketing with the budget in hand and ask the questions; what do we need to sell by the end of the year? Once the incentives have been nailed and properly aligned, make the plan dead, stupid, simple. A plan is simple stupid if a sales person knows exactly what they will be paid on a deal without looking it up. In addition, all plans must have accelerators. Accelerators are when more commission is p… (read more)

Geoffrey James (a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author of the award-winning blog Sales Source)
5 Ways to reduce cost of sales

Many companies still use gross revenue to measure sales performance. Focusing solely on revenue, however, can easily put a company in a position where you’re losing money on each sale and trying to make up the difference by selling in volume. Since profit, not revenue, is the point of selling in the first place, it only makes sense to measure sales accordingly. A big advantage of this approach is that it reduces the temptation to discount (a hidd… (read more)

David Sacks (CEO at Zenefits)
New Sales Models – David Sacks, Founder and CEO of Yammer – YouTube

10% until they hit their quota and then 15% once they’ve met it

David Sacks (CEO at Zenefits)
New Sales Models – David Sacks, Founder and CEO of Yammer – YouTube

50% base and 50% variable, assuming they hit their quota. Set their comission to 10% until their quota is met and then 15% once they’ve met it. Therefore their quota should be 10x their base salary (assuming the 10% comission rate).

What’s the best way to compensate your legal team?

Ryan Howard (Founder @ Practice Fusion)
Transcript: Protecting yourself as the founder; Ryan Howard | VatorNews

Some of you might know this, some of you might not. It’s pretty standard stuff, but the majority of firms will, in the valley, work on, contingency upfront so think about DLA Piper, Wilson Sonsini, Fenwick, you can go to them. If they believe your idea has merit, you don’t have to pay them upfront. You can defer fees, usually $25 to $50,000 until your seed or Series A. You shouldn’t be paying your attorney upfront. You should be spending all your… (read more)

Aaron Patzer (Founder & CEO of Fountain, Mint)
Aaron Patzer lays bare Mint’s numbers – YouTube

We went to Wilson Sonsini and deferred our legal costs and gave them .5%

What’s the best way to compensate employees?

Philip Sugar (Founder & President @ SpringActive)
The Management Team – Guest Post From Phil Sugar – AVC

I am in charge of recruiting. I will have somebody managing the process as we grow; departments do the interviewing, but bottom line, if my people are better than your people I win. I go on as many sales calls and customer visits as I can. I’ve been told that once I hire a Head of Sales, I should stay out of the process. I totally disagree. The top producer makes more than the manager. If the only way people think they can make the most money… (read more)

Mitchell Harper (Co-Founder & Board Member @ Bigcommerce)
28 things I’d do differently next time around — Medium

Tie a good amount of everyone’s bonus to a customer success metric

Michael Mauboussin (Managing Director and Head of Global Financial Strategies at Credit Suisse)
Untangling Skill and Luck

Ideally, a compensation program pays an individual for his or her skillful contribution toward achieving a desirable objective. Compensation programs need to be modified so as to strip out as much randomness as possible.

Henry Ward (Founder & CEO at eShares)
eShares 101 — Medium

1. Compensation (salary + equity) is determined by the market for your skill set, and your skill level. That means there is no automatic annual raise of 2-4%. 2. Increase compensation by increasing marketability. 3. You will be marked-to-market at your 9-month anniversary and every 12 months thereafter. 4. We target being in the 75th percentile for your compensation.

Leo Polovets (General Partner @ Susa Ventures)
Analyzing AngelList Job Postings, Part 2: Salary and Equity Benchmarks · Coding VC

[from 2014] Assuming that a startup has two founders, here are some ballpark numbers for engineering job offers:

Salary:
For employee #1:
20th percentile salary range is $70k – $100k
50th percentile salary range is $80k – $120k
80th percentile salary range is $82k – $135k

For employees #2 through #13, salaries rise for higher paying jobs:
20th percentile salary range is $75k – $100k
50th percentile salary range is $85k – $125k
80th percentile s… (read more)

Unknown (who knows!?)
Explore Salary & Equity Data

https://angel.co/salaries has useful information to identify market rates

Aaron Patzer (Founder & CEO of Fountain, Mint)
Aaron Patzer lays bare Mint’s numbers – YouTube

My first engineer at Mint I paid $3,000/mo. That’s what I paid my second engineer as well. [They] got 2% and 1.5% equity. I hired my VP of Engineering who was [previously] making 180k for 90k but I gave him 4% equity.

Jeffrey Minch (Entrepreneur – ‎Littlefield Advisors)
The Management Team – Guest Post From JLM – AVC

A good comp plan includes: Salary; Benefits; Short term incentives (measurable performance based bonus); Long term incentives (equity); and something special (work from Colorado two weeks per year).

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Promote fast | A Founder’s Notebook

Promote fast. A simple litmus test for promoting someone is: Are there additional, meaningful responsibilities you want to give this person? If so, promote them. If not, don’t. And “promote fast” then means: Don’t be scared to throw extra responsibilities at capable people.

Ben Horowitz (Co-Founder & Partner @ Andreessen Horowitz)
Titles and Promotions – Ben’s Blog

There are two schools of thought regarding this. Marc Andreessen argues that people ask for many things from a company: salary, bonus, stock options, span of control, and titles. Of those, title is by far the cheapest, so it makes sense to give the highest titles possible… If it makes people feel better, let them feel better. At Facebook, by contrast, Mark Zuckerberg… avoids accidentally giving new employees higher titles and positions than bette… (read more)