Advice to New Founders (Including Derek Jeter) on Your Next Phase

Navid Zolfaghari offers more startup wisdom in our first Upshift eBook, “59 Secrets for Startup Sales Success.” Download your free copy now!

It’s official – Derek Jeter is now an entrepreneur. In launching his new venture, The Players’ Tribune, where he will be “working with other athletes, with editors and with producers to create a platform that gives us a chance to say what’s on our mind (and)…shape the site into an online community filled with first-person stories and behind-the-scenes content,” he will have to learn the importance of “team” in a whole new way. Well he’s off to a good start with his first hire, Danica Patrick.

Someone who knows a lot about the importance of teams to a burgeoning enterprise is Navid Zolfaghari.

Navid is an entrepreneur obsessed with disruptive technology and innovation. His current company, Pinpoint Mobile, was founded on the belief that mobile is as much of an appendage as your arms or legs and that every company needs to be part of the mobile obsession. Prior to Pinpoint, Navid was an early member at Wildfire Interactive where he helped create and execute social media campaigns for brands and agencies such as GM, AT&T, BBDO, and Target. Wildfire was acquired by Google in August 2012 for over $400M. Before that, Navid founded TriFame, an online talent discovery website that helped record labels and magazines find aspiring artists.

In all the years since he’s been building startups, Navid’s most important lesson has been finding the right people to work with. Here’s his advice to America’s Favorite Shortstop – and any other founder looking to avoid some of the common mistakes associated with team building.

“There’s always someone who knows more than you.”

Identify the right kinds of people you need, including those who complement your weaknesses. In addition to their level of enterprise or startup experience, find out:

  • What are their personality types?
  • Are they coachable? (Jeter should be good at this one)
  • Are they curious?
  • Do they have a good work ethic?
  • Is there a good cultural fit?

“There’s no one size fits all solution. Different people require different management.”

Being a team leader means being a mentor and enabler. You’ll want to shield your team from internal politics, make it easy for them to focus on the job and be more successful. Learn how to manage everyone differently, know what motivates them and push their individual buttons to make them better performers overall. Some people belong on first base, others in right field. Still, you want to get your whole team excited and do whatever you can to support them.

“Don’t focus on scaling bodies, scale with people.”

If you hire too many people at once, it’s harder to make them effective. (This goes for “athletes, editors and producers,” as well as sales folks.) The biggest problem I’ve seen is companies that try to scale too fast. If you focus on hiring a bunch of people, then you’re not really focusing on making them more effective. Even if you have a lot of money (Jeter!), you shouldn’t necessarily go out and hire everyone immediately. Take the team you have and work on making it the best it can be before you go out and find new players.

“Know your playbook.”

Okay, maybe that’s a football term, but you still need to get everyone on the same page in terms of tactics. Standardize the language you are all using so the team can better understand each other. You may have different terminology to define each stage but essentially you should look to initiate, educate, validate, justify and close, according to Navid. This way, if you hear a deal is in stage 2, you can start to ask questions as to what was uncovered during the discovery process. It could take a while to get everyone on the same page, but stay patient.

“Your team is everything.”

And not just in baseball. Hire the right kinds of people in terms of personality types and cultural fit. For Navid, that means coachability, adaptability, curiosity and a strong work ethic. But it also depends on what type of company you are and what stage the company is in. If you’re ready to recruit on an enterprise level, you should hire someone who has navigated complicated deals before and understands the process of what is needed to work with a big company.  But if you’re company is a startup, your first few hire can be from anywhere – as long as they get what you’re trying to do and have passion for it.

Navid was part of a team at Wildfire that scaled from 10 to 130 sales people. How’d they do it?

In the early days of Wildfire, he says, culture was everything. “The spirit we built there was one of collaboration. People came to work early and left late because they felt a sense of purpose and enjoyed the people they worked with. These were people you could learn from, laugh with and share meaningful experiences.” The founders are key to setting this culture, as well as your first few hires. The genuine care that people have for each other goes a long way toward achieving results. Like Jeter says, you should feel “blessed to play with the best” and “not want to compete without any of them.”

I asked Navid if he had any thoughts for Derek Jeter and The Players’ Tribune.

“I wouldn’t profess to have any advice to a big leaguer like Derek Jeter,” Navid said. “Unless of course he’d like to take his business mobile. Then we should talk.”

Read more of my “Advice From the Field” posts featuring the hard-won knowledge of some of Silicon Valley’s most accomplished sales leaders.

For more tips from Navid and other Upshift advisors on how to scale your startup, download our new eBook, “59 Tips for Startup Sales Success.”

Derek Jeter Photo: WireImage