How to setup a new team in a startup

18 Feb 2019

I joined Yoco to build out the Customer Success area and team. I learnt a lot about how to and how not to set up a new team. As Edison said,

“I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work”

Customer Success didn’t have a generally accepted definition when I started (and arguably still doesn’t) and the area was new to Yoco.

Based on what I learnt, the three key things to get right are:

  1. Alignment
  2. Focus
  3. Team Growth


You don’t have to have everyone aligned to or valuing what you’re doing to start, but you do need to make sure you’re getting the most important stakeholders aligned as soon as possible.

You drive alignment by listening and showing results.

Listen to others’ perspectives and understand their frame of reference in the business. By listening, you will understand where the gaps in alignment are and what the mental models are that will need to change.

As you learn and show results, learn to articulate how these results are contributing to the business objectives.

What not to do:

— Don’t clearly define what you do, how you do it and why it’s important to the business

— Ignore misalignment from important stakeholders

— Poorly communicate your roadmap

— Don’t have a simple and clear explanation of your work with other teams.

— Don’t clearly articulate how your contribute to the businesses’ priorities


Triage the area, if there is nothing urgent, figure out what the most important stuff you can do is and find the shortest route to showing value.

If you’re a generalist, you can get sucked into numerous things in a startup, allowing this to happen regularly is usually a mistake (it could also be a sign of a gap in the org). Be strict on yourself and only allow yourself to do peripheral work if the work is company-survival urgent or you’re smashing your core work.

The nice thing is you don’t have to do this alone, use your manager to help you stay accountable.

What not to do:

— Don’t focus on important, achievable wins

— Focus on the ambitious, complex stuff first, rather than the most impactful

— Start by doing multiple, complex things at the same time

— Don’t get worried if you’re not saying no to things

Team Growth

In startups, there will always be pressure to recruit junior people. This can work if you focus on hiring smart generalists and works best if they’re taking over work you’re doing already. You should push back on this when you should hire someone experienced. You need experienced people when; the work is more complex, the results are more urgent and the role requires more interaction with senior people.

Be realistic with your capacity (make sure you’re factoring in onboarding new team members) and when you’ll need to add team members.

If you hire generalists, you should aim to get them to commit to specialising, even if it’s for the short-term, or work on getting a specialist to takeover the work once they have a proven, repeatable process.

What not to do:

— Don’t focus on how you’re going to build out your team

— Don’t work out the right skills and experience you need

— Don’t estimate how your team should grow over time

— Don’t clearly match the outputs you need with the talent you need to do it