Often, the startup ideas come from employees that see a gap in the market they are working with. E.g., an employee at a corporation who finds an opportunity to create a mobile app in the tourism area and gets on board a couple of team members to work together on the idea, on a part-time basis.
According to my observations, there are limited possibilities for a part-time team to have a successful launch of their project. What happens usually is that the part-time group starts with a lot of enthusiasm and devotes weekends and late after-work nights to the project. As time goes on, the team discovers the problem of the different rhythms within the team. One co-founder has to devote the weekends to the family, another one might be too pressured with work for a particular month and so on. This creates the problem of one team member delaying the rest of the team. And instead of hitting the first plan of creating a minimum viable product in 4-5 months, this seems to go far in the future.
Another common pattern is that a part-time member of the initial team starts to lose interest in the project as he sees that it’s much more difficult and time-consuming than what he thought in the beginning. If this person continues to be in the team but with devoting less and less time on the project, then the team psychology starts to change: “All three of us have 33% in this idea and the two of us are devoting so much time, sacrificing weekends with our friends and family, while the third doesn’t seem to be that committed”. This often leads to difficult discussions inside the team which could lead to having a team member leaving the team. Obviously, this has the cost of having to onboard a new part-time member and lose even more time.
I am not saying that part-time teams cannot succeed. But you should be three times more careful when joining such an effort. Here are some things you can do to mitigate some risks when you start with a part-time team:
1. Get the approval of families: This is especially important when having team members who have families and kids. Each co-founder has to explain to his significant other that joining such an effort, might require that he devotes many weekends and late nights to the idea and not to the family. And that there might be no revenue coming out of this at the end. Family support has to be granted with a clear view of the risks and the opportunities since day one.
2. If it’s something simple, pay it and don’t build it: If you want to build e.g. a mobile app for finding the best parties in the town in real time, you may think that you have to recruit a developer and a web designer in the part-time team to build it. Well, do your research. If you can buy the first prototype to test your idea with 2-3k USD through Upwork.com or a freelance developer, why should you bring additional part-time members in the beginning? Just bite the bullet, spend some money and get this off the ground as soon as possible. If you see traction, you can later recruit more members in the team.
Of course, if you want to do a sophisticated machine learning algorithm or a new social network or a very demanding software as a service, this is not possible, yet many times the startup ideas are not based on the excellence in technology but in the market connections or another unfair advantage that the team might have.
3. Create Rules of Disengagement in the team: Part-time teams usually don’t discuss what are the rules of leaving the startup, in the beginning. They feel that this will ruin the enthusiasm and the positive spirit of the team. It would be advisable to get in such an agreement with other team members as soon as possible. As an example, agree that you are all going to spend the next 12 weekends to create the first version of your mobile app and recruit 100 beta users. And that at the end of these 12 weekends you will meet to discuss if someone wants to leave, or if the team wants someone to leave due to low commitment. In that case, you could agree that the person that has to leave will let all his equity go, without requesting compensation for the hours worked. Or that he could keep a 2% in the company without doing anything in the future, instead of the 33% that possessed on day 1.
4. Create Sprints. Rest. Create Some More Sprints: It’s not easy for 3 persons who work 9 hours per day as employees to be on high performance all the time. Agree to the rhythm of the startup. As an example, agree that you will spend this week doing a sprint to gather 200 questionnaires for your market research. Let 3-4 days pass without doing anything. Create a second 4-day sprint of setting up the landing page, connecting analytics, creating online ads, your first blog posts and the press media kit. You get the idea. Create a healthy tension in the system with tight commitment and deadlines and execute on that as your whole life depends on it.
5. Manage the Emotional Flow: Cash flow is important, yet emotional flow might be even more important in the beginning. Try to find some ways to have fun as a part-time team. Celebrate a small victory, such as getting 100 beta testers with a night out with the team and everyone’s families. Get together as a team and work on some ideas that can help you keep the spirit high when the tough times come.
6. Have complimentary skills in the part-time team: If you are a business expert great in representing your startup and getting it off the ground but you don’t have industry connections, don’t recruit a friend of yours in the team just because you like him and he likes the idea. Get an industry expert, who could bring the connections that you don’t have.