QCA Bootcamp Insights: Building the Team

(EDITOR’S NOTE: As mentioned in last Tuesday’s feature article about the recent visit of the top leaders and others from Queen City Angels to Knoxville and the “Entrepreneurship Bootcamp” that the organization conducted, this is an article that summarizes advice offered to local entrepreneurs during the session.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Tony Shipley is Chairman, President and Co-Founder of Queen City Angels (QCA) that was established 22 years ago. He’s also the immediate Past Chair of the national Angel Capital Association and, for good measure, has “Big Orange” roots, graduating from the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville in 1969 with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering.

One might paraphrase a line from a popular commercial from years ago to suggest that “When Tony talks, everyone listens.” And they did during the recent “Entrepreneurship Bootcamp” that QCA conducted in Knoxville and a follow-up series of meetings the next day.

While Shipley played several roles during the all-day bootcamp, his primary topic was “Building the Team.” It’s a process he certainly knows well after serving as Founder or Co-Founder of four different Cincinnati-based start-ups as well as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for three of them.

“The key job of a CEO is to build a world-class team,” he told bootcamp participants. The other top three roles are developing the strategic vision and serving as the top sales person. Shipley explained that the team is not just the employees that a start-up hires but also includes attorneys, accountants and other external supporters.

“Think early on about having a board (of directors) to help you succeed,” he suggested.

Most of Shipley’s presentation was focused on the lessons he learned during his four start-ups and the development of a hiring system to guide that process. On the first point, he offered these tips:

  • Network, network, network to find people.
  • Hire the best.
  • Keep all stakeholders fully informed.
  • Think about the long-term plan when selecting an external team (i.e., attorneys, accountants, etc.)
  • Make customer-focused decisions.
  • Place employees and their considerations ahead of customers.
  • Be prepared to upgrade staff.

One lesson learned that might have surprised some of the entrepreneurs was this one: “If you are a Founder, be prepared to be replaced,” Shipley said, explaining that, on average, venture capitalists replace half to two-thirds of Founder CEOs before exiting. “Some replace up to 95 percent.”

He described the elements of an optimal hiring system as one that included: (1) a process for identifying candidates for positions; (2) job profiles that are regularly evaluated in light of the start-up’s needs; (3) creation of a short list of possible candidates that are vetted through telephone interviews initially; (4) a well-designed set of questions; and (5) selection of one or two finalists for additional vetting including the engagement of an industrial psychologist or use of a tool like Cloverleaf.

Does the system work? “Our turnover rate was less than five percent a year,” Shipley said of the start-ups he led.

An easy way to possibly remember his advice is the acronym of TEC. T stands for traits the company is seeking, E represents the experience that is needed, and C refers to the culture of the organization. Of those three, Shipley advised that “Cultural fit in the most important.”