Security startup confessions: Building a team

security startup build teamMy name is Kai Roer and I am a co-founder of a European security startup, and these are my confessions. I hope you will learn from my struggles, and appreciate the choices startups make when security matters. I will share experiences from my own startups (my first was in 1994), and things I have learned by watching and advising numerous other startups around the world.

Today, I will share my experiences in building a team.

Those of you who know me are well aware of me being one of those so-called high achievers. That means that I set my goals and expectations high, usually way above most others I know do.

It took me a long time to learn that I am one of those difficult people (to others) who constantly seem to be demanding more from the team than the team can deliver, and who never seems satisfied with any of the results. It is not uncommon to hear me say “I expect you to do better than that.”

And I do, because I measure everyone against my own standards. Also, I like to win, and in order to do that, I need my team to do their very best – all the time. To win, both me and them need to learn something new every day, and figure out how we can use that new knowledge to outsmart and outpace all the rest.

Expectedly, not all people are able or willing to cope with my demands for perfection and hard work.

I used to find that very frustrating, but over the years I have learned that the Pareto principle works better than my constant quest for excellence. 20 percent of our efforts should generate 80 percent of our results.

I now keep telling my team that “good is good enough – we do not strive for perfection.” While this works great for me, I have had team members in the past who thought “good enough” meant that they did not need to deliver high quality. They interpreted “good enough” as it referred to their own standards, not mine.

I think I have become better at communicating early on that I am what I am: a high achiever who expects the best of each one of my team members. I have also become increasingly good at weeding out those who will not deliver close to my own standards, and either make them go through a rigorous training program (they can drop out anytime they want), or I let them go.

Some people are very smart and only need proper training to turn into high achievers. Others are more likely to learn the process, focus and other tools to apply to become a more productive worker. I can accept that – it is the effort that matters.

I think a lot of my current and former colleagues find working with me challenging, interesting, a constant learning experience, and hopefully, a fun one, too. I know for a fact that some found it extremely frustrating and impossible (hence, they no longer work with me).

I strive to cheer my team on, and I strive to be clear about my expectations and in my requests. I know I don’t succeed all the time, but a lot of people do stick around, so I must be doing something right.

Working with people is definitely a challenge, but that is the main reason I love doing it.

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