Venture Cafe October 27, 2015 Mike Langer
Mike Langer, vice president of business development at Red Hawk Technologies, speaks at the Oct. 27 Venture Café

Tech adviser provides advice on building an entrepreneurial team

Jasmine Grillmeier
November 18, 2015

Building a stellar workforce for your venture is crucial, but complicated. At the Oct. 27, 2015, Venture Café, Mike Langer, vice president of business development at Red Hawk Technologies, provided tips on not only preparing to build the team, but also how to use that knowledge to create an entrepreneurial organization.

Langer, a 1990 graduate of Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in communications, currently advises customers in areas such as Web and mobile application development, systems integration, business workflow improvement, lead generation, e-commerce platforms and sales force automation at Red Hawk Technologies. Founded by Ron Dunlevy and Matt Strippelhoff, Red Hawk Technologies is focused on building a “dream team” of experienced business analysts, developers and project managers to collaborate closely with customers’ IT and marketing executives. Since its founding in 2008, the company has built its own dream team, growing from two employees to 14. Having seen the growth of the Red Hawk Technologies team firsthand, Langer was able to provide attendees of the Venture Café with the following tips on building an entrepreneurial team.


Preparing to Build a Great Team

Treat recruiting as life or death for your company because it is. Building an exceptional team is the most important thing you can do as a young leader. If you're great at it, you will likely succeed. If not, you will likely fail.

Build a road map of key hires tied to specific business objectives/milestones. Decide which hires are "must-haves" now versus later. Ask yourself: How critical is the role and functional area to achieving our short-term objectives? Determine the right level (such as: c-level executive, vice president, director, individual contributor) not only for today but for two or three quarters out.

Always search for talent. At times, 100 percent of your day should be dedicated to recruiting. Make it a competitive challenge and give yourself measurable objectives. Treat every discussion with someone as an opportunity to source candidates.

Be accepting of mentorship. People will want to help you and it's a critical differentiator — people don't want to help incumbent companies. Successful entrepreneurs will see you in themselves and will want to provide advice. Soak it up, be proactive, follow-up and thank them. Make sure when you're successful you do the same for another young entrepreneur.

As you hire your team, embed a culture of recruiting. Make recruiting part of every employee’s target objectives. Plan and budget for the activity. Make it part of weekly company meetings. Celebrate successes.


Creating an Entrepreneurial Organization

Hire entrepreneurial people. These are people who have an entrepreneurial DNA. They are naturally more inquisitive and critical of the status quo, which is why they may often have a history of problems with authority or even be misfits. They are also good at generating tons of ideas, which may often seem eccentric and a bit odd.

Learn how to manage them. Entrepreneurial people want to work on meaningful projects; they want challenging goals that can lead to big accomplishments. Although this may be true for everyone, the big difference is that entrepreneurial individuals are often off put by routine, well-defined tasks, tactical projects and any assignment that can be completed on autopilot. These things are all likely to disengage and even alienate entrepreneurial employees. Managers must learn to tolerate the dark side of entrepreneurial people: At times they may be moody, demanding, and erratic, but managers need to have a clear incentive to make them shine.

Build entrepreneurial teams. We tend to think of innovation as the product of heroic individual efforts. In reality, every innovation is the result of coordinated teamwork, which can be achieved by building entrepreneurial teams. The secret to creating a true synergy between individual team members is to look for congruent beliefs and values but complementary skills and styles.

Create an entrepreneurial culture. This is the final but most crucial element of the formula. But what do we mean by entrepreneurial culture? Quite simply, an entrepreneurial culture is one that empowers every employee to act in an entrepreneurial way, even if they are not naturally inclined to do so. In other words: an environment or ecosystem where individuals feel encouraged to take risks, make their own decisions, and experiment, even if it means failing. Entrepreneurial culture is where informal, spontaneous and non-bureaucratic decisions characterize the typical patterns of problem-solving and interaction between employees and teams - a culture that promotes exploration, learning and play. In order to create this culture, leaders must trust employees as much as they trust leaders, if not more and employees must be treated as grown-ups. They should be given as much support and autonomy as needed and own the vision as if they owned the business.


The Venture Café series is sponsored by the Ohio University Center for Entrepreneurship, a partnership between the College of Business and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs