Home Thinking Aloud It Takes A Village: A Startup’s Success Depends On People, Not Products

It Takes A Village: A Startup’s Success Depends On People, Not Products


by Dr. Nikki Blacksmith, author ofData-Driven Decision Making in Entrepreneurship: Tools for Maximizing Human Capital

In today’s fiercely competitive business landscape, a brilliant product idea isn’t a guaranteed path to success. Success lies in the human capital behind the vision.

Traditionally, when building or investing in early-stage startups, founders and venture capitalists (VCs) have focused heavily on product potential and market fit. Yet a growing body of research suggests one critical factor is consistently overlooked: a team’s ability to execute and navigate the inevitable challenges of a startup’s journey.

Here’s why a startup’s success hinges more on your people than the products:

Long-term Commitment.

Building a successful company is a marathon, not a sprint. Founders and their teams need grit, resilience, and adaptability to overcome hurdles and persevere through setbacks.

Collaborative Execution.

Without a culture that fosters collaboration and clear communication, executing a vision can be back-breaking. Strong team dynamics ensure everyone is aligned on priorities and moving in the same direction.

Survival in a VUCA World.

Business environments are often described as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). Founders must learn, adapt, and pivot. The product and business can’t do this without the organization’s people.

Now, don’t get me wrong; entrepreneurs and VCs know the central importance of the right people, but their due diligence often relies on gut feelings and past experiences, not real-time human capital data. 

Identifying and Building a Winning Team

Ensuring the people behind the product are the right ones is an ongoing process. Here are three pivotal moves to make from the outset:

1. Leverage Human Capital Data.

Quantitative data can accelerate your ability to evaluate potential startup teams. Do you have the right people in the right place? Are you hiring at the right times? How are your teams faring in real time?

To start, integrate psychometric assessments into your hiring process to unlock insights into potential hires’ capabilities, personality traits, and how they’ll mesh with your culture. As your team matures, leverage project management tools with built-in analytics to monitor progress, spotlight inefficiencies, identify bottlenecks, and assess collaboration.

Metrics like team cohesion scores, individual contribution rates, and project completion times can be gold mines for understanding team dynamics and pinpointing areas for improvement.

2. Invest in Team Development.

Don’t underestimate how opportunities for learning and growth can level up the founding team and enhance value creation.

Start with a skills gap analysis. Compare your team’s current skillsets against the arsenal that’s needed to meet your startup’s goals. Craft personalized development plans, which may include specialized workshops, digital courses, or mentorship initiatives. Use data from completed projects and peer feedback to finetune these plans continually.

3. Embrace Diversity.

Diversity isn’t just about ticking boxes. A diverse team brings a broader range of perspectives and experiences to the table, sparking innovation and creative problem-solving.

You can get on the right track by auditing your team’s current makeup and setting tangible, trackable diversity objectives. Turn to AI-driven recruitment tools to neutralize biases during the initial screening process so you can focus on skills and experiences rather than demographics. Regularly analyze your hiring, promotion, and attrition data to identify patterns that may signal underlying biases or hurdles to a truly inclusive environment.

By placing your human capital front and center, you’re laying the foundation for long-term success. Remember, the strength of your startup lies not in the product alone but in the collective power of the people behind it.


NIkki Blacksmirth is co-founder and CEO of Blackhawke Behavior Science and an adjunct faculty member at American University in Washington, D.C. She’s the co-author of the new book “Data-Driven Decision Making in Entrepreneurship: Tools for Maximizing Human Capital“. Learn more at blackhawke.io.