When it comes to evaluating a startup team, I, like job candidates, assess people based on three main criteria.

Firstly, I prioritize the soul or moral-ethical character of a person. This criterion remains at the top because it’s the most important. One can be smart, energetic, and professional, but if a person or team has incorrect moral values, all their knowledge and energy can be directed toward harming others. In such cases, the smarter and more persistent such a person is, the worse it is for you.

How do I assess the moral-ethical norms of people? It can be easily detected through a few minutes of personal conversation.

Firstly, decent individuals will never speak ill of their previous partners, colleagues, clients, and so on. I’ve heard statements from startup founders like, “Before you, I had an investor, but he turned out to be unethical, deceived me, didn’t fulfill his promises, and wanted to take over my company.” Or, for example, “I disbanded my previous team because they became arrogant, and started demanding a share in the company. I had to kick them out, and now I’ve assembled a new team.” Or, I’ve heard disparaging remarks from startup founders about their competitors like, “These companies are not even worth considering! They have primitive technologies, they don’t know how to work with clients, and their product is just a pathetic imitation of ours!”

After hearing such words, I have no desire to work with such individuals. I am not even interested in whether they were deceived, let down, or became arrogant by their previous investors and partners. What matters is how they relate to it. If they have the nobility to speak positively or at least neutrally about other people, even if they were wrong, then I understand that I am dealing with an honorable person. Regardless of how our relationship unfolds, they will not start slinging mud at me tomorrow. I want to deal with such a partner.

Another criterion of moral-ethical character is honesty. If a startup founder distorts information even slightly in their favor during a conversation or embellishes reality, it is a warning sign. A small lie breeds great distrust. I would not work with such a person because I understand that if they deceive me in trivial matters now, they will deceive me in major matters tomorrow.

The second important criterion for evaluating a startup team is intelligence, meaning professionalism, intellect, and knowledge. A person must understand the market, the technologies, and their product. Such a person is easy to recognize. They confidently answer all questions about customers, competitors, the advantages of their product, and so on. It’s evident that they are deeply immersed in the subject, have thought about it extensively, and have double-checked it many times.

The third criterion for evaluating a startup team is determination, dedication, and resilience.

A true startup founder’s eyes should be alight; they should think about their startup day and night, focusing solely on it, without getting distracted by other projects.

A startup founder should be willing to sacrifice much for their creation, not only leaving a good position in a large corporation but also selling their car, and apartment, investing all their savings into their project.

The startup team must have resilience, meaning they don’t give up after initial failures and mistakes; they rise again from their knees and move forward. Of course, failures should give them food for thought, and provide reasons for pivoting, i.e., changing the business model, structure, and even the essence of the product, but failures should not kill the team’s belief in themselves and their determination to continue working together.

When evaluating a team’s resilience, a good criterion is their previous experience. If the team has not suffered defeat and has not abandoned projects they started, then it’s more of a negative than a positive. It means the team hasn’t yet experienced the difficult period of failures, internal conflicts, depression, and giving up. Those who have been through all of this are already head and shoulders above those who have only positive experiences.

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