Had a lot of good feedback from my earlier post about teams and evaluating skills gaps; we even used a version of this as a self-assessment tool for the Cleantech Open Northeast semifinalist teams, which seemed to be helpful.
Since then, however, I've gotten approached by a number of younger entrepreneurs who are worried that, as they look at their relative inexperience, this skills-gap analysis means generally pessimistic things for them.
To be fair: Yes it does.
But not prohibitive things. In fact, a good skills-gap analysis is probably even more important for first-time entrepreneurs than more experienced entrepreneurs, even if it shows a lot of gaps. Every entrepreneur has to be a first-time entrepreneur at some point. Those who succeed are more often those who show a strong commitment to self-awareness and a willingness to objectively identify and embrace challenges. It won't be easy, but it's entirely possible to do.
So for younger entrepreneurs, a few thoughts:
1. Just because you haven't done something before doesn't mean you haven't demonstrated aptitude for it in analogous situations. Any good skills-gap analysis is designed to help you objectively identify mission-critical tasks that will be a special challenge because they're a gap or an outright weakness. But emphasis on "objectively identify". Think about college or grad school experiences that stood out. Early career experiences where you demonstrated a strength in one type of activity and got frustrated by another type of activity. Try your best to extrapolate to this new effort. Youth doesn't prohibit excellent performance or preclude strong skills, it just makes them more raw and harder to discern. Also, this kind of assessment should help prioritize the next hires the team will need, which is important to acknowledge and plan for. So it's important to focus in on relatively near-term (18 month) deliverables when doing an inventory of the current team, because I bet you'll find narrowing down the definitions of the key roles in this way will help you feel better positioned to successfully tackle critical tasks with your current team and with a plan to augment that team going forward.
2. That said, if you or a team member haven't done a task before, acknowledge that there will be a learning curve before they're proficient at it, even if they have the core necessary attributes to succeed at it eventually. Build consequent delays into your plan. Find ways to learn by doing lower-pressure dry runs and such before you have to go after the most critical "wins". And most importantly, find advisors who can help mentor on those specific mission-critical tasks where you've identified the starkest gaps on the current team.
3. Assign responsibilities. Early teams (especially those formed out of b-school collaborations) tend to have a bunch of founders who all vaguely look alike in their backgrounds, and have a seemingly instinctive need to have their startup be a democracy where everyone does a little bit of everything. That won't go far. Assign specific deliverables to specific individuals. Have a CEO (even if interim) who everyone agrees has the final decision (at the Cleantech Open event I mentioned above, when asked who their CEO was, one team just kind of shrugged and looked at each other). If no one is individually responsible for a deliverable, too often it won't happen. If that means someone on the team must take responsibility for a task they don't have a comfort zone for yet, see the first two points above.
As you can tell, I hate thinking that the last post on team dynamics might scare off younger entrepreneurs. In fact, I think young startups will play a crucial role in the reinvigoration of this sector. Especially as I believe the next wave of cleantech innovation will be more about market reinvention and value chain disruption than just hard-core tech.
Who better to think creatively and to have the courage to try to blow up these calcified channels in the face of deeply-entrenched incumbents?
Who better to bring 21st century business and channel strategies to these 20th century industries?
The next generation of cleantech entrepreneurs will be the ones who break through and revolutionize the energy market, in the U.S. and elsewhere. If they can execute. And the best way to overcome potential gaps in execution is to acknowledge gaps in existing skillsets and address them head-on.
Also, in case you have insomnia, here's an opportunity to cure that, thanks to Scott Clavenna and my friends at GTM.