Quantitative analysis of start-up team composition, alignment, and mindset

  • Can you trust your gut if you feel your team is misaligned
  • Which personality types do founders have, and which ones team-up
  • What are the most and least controversial topics
  • What are the predominant opinions on topics like — under which conditions someone would leave their start-up
© Josh Calabrese

Tl;dr:

Most teams consist of 2 founders, but it is not always a visionary and a hacker, but rather seems like extroverts and introverts stay among themselves. Teams are least aligned when it comes to commitment and teamwork. The most critical questions are which additional sacrifices (e.g., cash, relocation) team members are willing to make, and when they would leave. Up to 60% of founders are in the game to build something value-adding from scratch. Only one quarter aims to build a unicorn. The desired outcome is financial independence. Not everybody wants a family-like atmosphere at work, and while unequal equity distribution is not a major issue, being the only one working and different business values definitely are. Founders were able to anticipate alignment issues in their team — this is why you should check it.

Background

Fig. 1: Sample sections from the analysis

Questionnaire and data

The questionnaire is structured into five major categories: personality, motivation, time and money, commitment, and teamwork. The categories were defined based on interviews with various stakeholders in the start-up scene and academic research. The overall goal was to keep the number of questions as low as possible while maximizing pragmatic insights. None of the 27 questions are mandatory. We neither claim to be comprehensive nor fulfill high academic standards.

Fig. 2: Sample questions

How we measure alignment

In the scoring process, questions are interpreted with a predefined measurement of alignment, if two or more members answered it and skipped otherwise. The overall score of the analysis is calculated by weighting and factoring in each result. The score lies within the range [0,1], with 1 being fully aligned.

  • Dichotomous (e.g. yes/no)
  • Nominal categorical (no intrinsic ordering of answers)
  • Ordinal categorical (distance between answers matters)
  • Myers Briggs (gives information about the personality)
  • Not rated (scoring does not make sense, but discussing does)

Known issues

One drawback is, that there is no information on the outcome of the start-ups, so beneficial factors for success cannot be identified, but we are already working on a solution to fix this.
Another is sample bias. Most start-ups in the dataset came through accelerator programs or coaches and are somehow aware of the pitfalls of team misalignment.

Insights

Team size

Some sources state that the perfect size of a start-up team is two — which seems to be reflected in the data. The team is then as lean as possible, having a huge amount of trust, and allowing to distribute the workload. Three and more allow for more diverse skillets and focused roles but also introduce more opportunities for friction and overhead.

Fig. 3: Distribution of team size

Founder personality types and pairings

Every start-up needs a certain set of skills that needs to be covered by the team. Founders should therefore have a disparate set of character traits and skills. Aligna uses a bare minimum of questions to identify Myers-Briggs Identity Types (MBIT). Figure 4 shows the distribution of the top 10 personalities among the founders. The most common one is ESTJ, the so-called “Executive” according to 16personalities. Directly followed by ENTJ — the “commander” and ISTJ — the “logistician”.

Bar-chart showing the distribution of Meyers-Briggs personalities among founders in percent. Most common are ESTJ, ENTJ, ISTJ with about 14–10%.
Fig. 4: Top-10 Myers-Briggs personalities among founders

Alignment

Fig. 5: Distribution of overall alignment in teams
Fig. 6: Alignment per section
Fig. 7: Median alignment per question

Mindset

Let’s have a look at the distribution of opinions within the individual questions to understand the real personal goals and wishes of the founders.

Fig. 8: Responses for “Why do you want to start a company?”
Fig. 9: Responses for “How big do you want your company to be in year 5?”
Fig. 10: Responses for “Sustainable or high growth business?”
Fig. 11: Responses for “Is your start-up a temporarily limited project or your life’s work?”
Fig. 12: Responses for “What are your personal financial goals in an exit case?”
Fig. 13: Relationship between financial goals and aimed at company size
Fig. 14: Responses for “Do you have a plan B?”
Fig. 15: Responses for “What is most important in your company culture you want to create?”
Fig. 16: Responses for “Under which conditions would you leave your start-up?” (Multiple choice)

Gut feeling and founder self-assessment

Founders were asked how much they felt the team to be aligned. Yet, people stating that they have a clear vision in their team had a massive dispersion in their actual results. Those who estimate the alignment low received scores skewed towards the lower end and only a few good ones by surprise. This suggests that founders can already anticipate sub-par alignment.

Fig. 17: Alignment score by assumed alignment

What to do next?

You can use Aligna with your team for free here. If you like to support the mission, please share it with befriended start-ups 🙏.

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Linus Kohl

Linus Kohl

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👋 CTO at GoodIP, Managing Director MunichResearch. Writing about tech I am working on. Let’s connect on LinkedIn https://linkedin.com/in/linuskohl