Thursday, November 5, 2009

Optimal founder team size

Followup to: Four Reasons to Keep Your Founding Team Small (and Two Reasons Not To)

The risks of keeping your founding team small tend to revolve around the usual resource issues, such as:

  • Not enough people to ship a quality product before the market window closes
  • Lack of sufficiently diverse skill set
  • Lack of sufficient contacts
The risks of a large founding team tend to revolve around the usual "human scalability" issues, such as:
  • Group conflicts
  • Social loafing
  • Coordination difficulties
  • Slower decision-making processes
My judgment is that the problems of a large founding team look more tractable than the problems of a small founding team. In the days ahead, I'll make the following two claims:
  1. If, like most startups, you lack a good strategy for dealing with the problems of large founding teams, then tilt towards keeping your founding team small.
  2. But, if you can properly identify and solve the problems of scaling up to a larger team, I will happily fly in the face of conventional wisdom and make the bold claim that, if you have the talent available, you should aim for a team of six founders.
I will be expanding on this controversial claim in more detail in the days ahead, and explore how the scaling problems can be mitigated by:
  • Longer working hours
  • More time spent on coordination activities
  • Autocratic leadership
  • Greater transparency
  • Increased turnover rate of initial founders
In the meantime, if you'd like to share your experiences working with a 4+ founder startup, feel free to post a comment below.


Rob Fitzpatrick

We have 4 founders. 2 and a half years in now, we're all still involved. It's hard to live together, work out of your living room, and spend 24 hours a day with a larger group. More hours for one of those many pairs to go wrong I guess. But since we were beyond that living situation it's been lovely.

Our biggest mistake (regarding team) was not dividing the work more strictly at the beginning. We all did a little development, customer relations, legal, etc. Once we moved all of the non-development onto one person our overall productivity roughly doubled.