Getting The Band Back Together

We've backed a lot of serial entrepreneurs over the years. It is one of our favorite things to do. About half of our current portfolio is led by serial entrepreneurs who are working on their second, third, or fourth startup.

One hard choice an entrepreneur faces is whether to put the band back together.

On one hand, you want to bring some new blood and new thinking into the mix.

On the other hand, there is great value in reassembling a team that has worked together successfully before.

Dave Morgan, founder of Real Media, TACODA, and now Simulmedia, tells me that each time he has started a new company, he has intended to go with an entirely new team and each time he has found himself bringing back the bandmates within a year of getting started.

I saw Mark Pincus do that with Scott and Cadir, his co-founders of SupportSoft, about a year or two into the development of Zynga.

And I recently saw Mike Yavonditte bring together the product team he worked with at Quiqo into his new startup

I don't think there is a right or wrong answer here. Assembling the team is such a critical part of startup success. But I do think it is worth noting that we have seen a tendency of entrepreneurs to go back to the well and put the band back together more often than not. And even when they don't do that initially, it seems that over time, it is impossible to resist that urge.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Mark Essel

    The devil you know vs the one you don’t. More than that social ties, and first hand evidence of what key team members can do.It’s worth noting waiting a year to bring on a core startup member several times has a shady feel to it, shouldn’t they be cofounders if they’re repeatedly building businesses together? That’s up to each startup of course.Spooky showing up to naked comments.

    1. fredwilson

      summer doldrums i think marki sure hope its not a reflection on the quality of the posts

      1. Mark Essel

        Ha, no way meistro. I just showed up too early yesterday. Just got back from tandem kayaking with Michelle. She got a healthy coating of salt water from paddling. Time to see what you riffed about today.

  2. Dave Morgan

    One of the big advantages of getting the band back together is that you can bring some certainty into a world of uncertainty that swirls around a start-up. When you’re trying to create a new market and change constituent behaviors – and face lots of market risk and business development risk – finding ways to minimize your technology risk and product risk by bringing in a group of folks that can complete each others sentences can be a big help. The biggest issue, I have found, is to be sure that they are the types of people that are very externally aware, are always willing and eager to try new things, and are also good at inviting and integrating new blood into the team over time.

    1. Dave Morgan

      To be perfectly frank, as important as it is that former band mates are able to finish each others’ sentences, a big advantage to bringing the band back together is their ability to finish “my” sentences. Folks that already know my flaws as a manager are much more tolerant of them when I repeat them (or at least aren’t surprised by them any more). Plus, they already know the culture that I want to create, are to turn my half-baked ideas into clear product requirements and code, and don’t freak out if I call an all-hands meeting out of the blue every other month to trial balloon ideas that might radically change our business model or product focus or their roles in the business.

      1. Tereza

        That’s really honest of you to share. Thanks for that. Nice to know you’re human! :-)BTW you gave me great advice a while back about Spin Selling and cliff diving. It’s standing the test of time. Thanks for that, too.

      2. fredwilson

        that is a great point daveevery entrepreneur has their quirks as a managerit comes with the territorythe “band” as it were knows those quirks and understands how to deal with them and get stuff done

    2. Antonio Tedesco

      So why do you “intend to go with an entirely new team”? With former colleagues you don’t waste your time interviewing and searching for the right fit. Then as you say bring in new blood over time.

      1. Dave Morgan

        After leaving my previous companies, I have tried to give my former colleagues a lot of space for the first year or so – many really like their new home; some may not be ready to go through the pain of an early stage start-up again; some may need to find out if the grass is greener working with someone else; some may be ready to step up and do their own thing. Plus, I guess that I sometimes need to find out if my folks were as talented as I thought that they were, and I try out working with some others. In addition, I worry a lot about becoming complacent, falling into the safe choice. So far, my experience has been that my former band mates have turned out to be great future and mates as well.

  3. Niyi

    I think there is a parallel between the urge that VC’s feel in backing serial entrepreneurs and the urge entrepreneurs feel in reassembling their old teams. Simply put, it’s just another way to “derisk” the venture.That said, I’m a big big fan of Dave Morgan. From start to sale, Tacoda was executed flawlessly.

    1. reece

      I was lucky to get to meet with Dave a while ago. He’s a great guy. Very sharp and a good listener (which is rare in his position IMO).

  4. awaldstein

    Trust that comes from shared success is hard to not hold onto.Even in later stage companies, or agencies for that matter, the team grows by groups that have connections and success and trust over time.A shared web of experience that’s logical to hold onto…and extend.

  5. daryn

    The familiarity and trust that comes with working with the same people over the years is great, but you’ve also got to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and assemble the right team for the task at hand.That said, I’ve definitely got a dream team of people I’d love to corral together if the opportunity ever presents itself. Don’t worry, Fred, you’re an investor in it 😉

  6. LIAD

    the beauty of reforming the dream team is that you hit the ground running. you know everyone’s competencies and idiosyncrasies and can get down to business right off the bat.the downside is that band’s comeback albums sometimes suck because they can’t find their old rhythm. especially after success, egos are inflated and there can be historic politics simmering away which can be cancerous to the newco.its akin to ordering in a restaurant. sometimes your in the mood to gamble and the allure of something new wins out over an old favourite. on other occasions you want the certainty of the old favourite and are happy to forego new potential delights to have it.

    1. fredwilson

      maybe you need to mix it up, order a new appetizer and go with the old standard for the main course

  7. John Frankel

    A second start up has an element of control about it (which can be misleading).Your first company was successful and you want to not only re-create the spirit, but do that on your own terms. Part of that is lifestyle and part of that is working with good people that you have fun engaging with. You thus have a tendency to want to work with people you have had success with in the past, you just have to make sure that you do not fall into being too comfortable in a belief that your success from the past was generated by things you control and not a good element of luck. Good team dynamics are a necessary element of success, but not sufficient in itself – luck, hard work, killer idea, good partners, sufficient funding, competitive positioning, etc., etc. are required.

  8. kagilandam

    “Better to work with known witches than with unknown devils” 🙂 … no offense intended (this is aold saying from my part of the world).

    1. fredwilson

      aka “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know”

  9. reece

    Checking in with my usual sports analogy: After 1-2 years off, I played summer league with my former team… problem is, I only recognized a handful of guys.Apparently there’s been a lot of churn on the team and it showed on the field. Missed passes, crowded spacing, sloppy play overall… seemed like a general lack of trust in each other.If players on a team don’t trust their teammates, it becomes a selfish “I’m going to get my shot.” kind of game and it’s a recipe for a loss (as we did… ugh).

    1. Tereza

      So true, Reece. And even sometimes just a change of 1 or 2 people can create a very different dynamic, for better or worse. Or people switch ‘positions’. Sometimes you have to re-learn each other, or re-learn each other in the context of the new folks.

  10. Venkat

    This is hardly surprising. Finding the right team is so difficult few people do it deliberately. It happens by serendipity. So for a repeat attempt, you either have to wait for serendipity to strike again, or milk more out of the old high-chemistry team.I’d go so far as to say that the actual innovation *is* the team, not the product/service, and the inventor is Lady Luck. So same-band serial entrepreneurship sequences are really the same as product lifecycles. Some environments catalyze the formation of such teams to some extent (Stanford seems to be one), but I’ve never seen anyone propose principles for creating them deliberately.I also think people are overstating the role of trust developed through working together, a kind of co-dependency human capital generation. I think 90% of the mind-meld happens in the first 3-4 weeks of working together, and is driven by personality fit, not shared histories. I’ve worked with some people for years and never hit any level of chemistry with them. Others, I talk to for 5 minutes and I know I can trust them enough to try really big things with them.

  11. charlessmith

    One entrenpreneur I worked with (not Dave) told me once he missed his first team because his second team couldn’t read his mind and never built exactly what he wanted.

  12. Fernando Gutierrez

    When bringing people from previous ventures you have to be careful not to alienate your new partners. It’s easy to be unfair with them and give all trust to the old buddies, even in cases in which the new ones are at least as competent as them, but you should resist and treat all based on merit.

    1. Tereza

      That’s a great point. It’s hard to be an outsider in a team of insiders.

    2. fredwilson

      that is a big challengeparticularly if one of the key team members is new

      1. Dave Morgan

        Integrating new folks into a team of insiders is certainly a challenge. You can’t bring band mates back together if you’re not prepared to spend a lot of time helping new folks integrate into what tends to their culture. I’ve been lucky to have the same great head of HR join early in each of my start-ups, and managing that integration has always been a big part of her job.

  13. GlennKelman

    Some folks and I have been together through three startups, so I couldn’t agree more with the impulse to put the band back together. You could go further and say that it would be hard to back an entrepreneur who has had success before but can’t get anyone from the past to join her. That said, I often wonder how folks new to the team feel about joining a group with so much history. You have to avoid a kitchen cabinet of cronies, especially if the cronies are deferential. The people who have been with you the longest should be the ones most comfy telling you that you’re being an idiot. That’s the whole reason old friends are old friends.The other challenge if you’ve been successful is that people get too rich to want go through all that again.

    1. fredwilson

      the “crony” issue is the one you really need to work on if you are putting the band back togetherany advice on that Glenn?

        1. fredwilson

          Thanks Glenn. I will take a look

  14. andyswan

    Everyone here (the producers) agree it just makes sense to stick with the people that have proven themselves to you and each other….as the whiners of the world slouch off complaining about nepotism, crony capitalism and the good-ol-boy network.

  15. Claude

    we’re on a mission from God

    1. falicon

      Bring me four fried chickens and a Coke.

  16. Yavonditte

    I underestimated the importance of being able to bring back former players from Quigo. When we sold to AOL I was precluded from recruiting anyone. Now those restrictions are gone so I went back in time to hire some of the best from my past.Now that I have done it, I feel infinitely more comfortable about our ability to iterate. And there’s nothing like surrounding yourself with people that completely understand the ups and downs of start-up life, and with people that can deal with the nonsense that you encounter along the way.

    1. ShanaC

      Can you expand on why you feel infinitely more comfortable about your ability to iterate with the people from your past? As aopposed to a new team of other people from startups who you may only know casually?

  17. Mike

    I assume the likelihood of this happening goes up considerably if the previous venture either succeeded or failed for some reasons deemed “outside of their control”.In either of these cases, it seems crazy not to bring the band back together.In college I played in 3 bands, and each time a new one was formed I did all I could to bring in the guys from the other bands that a) impressed me with their musical knowledge ability b) had a good work ethic and c) I enjoyed spending time with.I’ve found the business world to be roughly the same.

  18. Harry DeMott

    I figure the keys to success in a start-up are (in order):1. The right team2. The right market3. The right idea4. Execution on that ideaSo if you already have #1 covered – why change the championship team? Just add to it as needed.

    1. BmoreWire

      I would flip that list upside down. I’ve definitely seen incredibly successful startups by the wrong team, in a risky market, with a mediocre idea, that just executed incredibly well.

    2. Aviah Laor

      5. Luck

  19. William Mougayar

    It also depends on what that team has done in-between these 2 gigs. Although they are the same people,- motivations and work practices change over time.

  20. ShanaC

    I’m just gonna listen- still looking for band players. I prefer violin- looking to finish off a quartet.

  21. vruz

    in a way, it’s risk management, don’t you think?”my guys did it, and they know how to do it again”and that should help to debunk the wrong idea that entrepreneurs are generally risk-inclined.

    1. fredwilson

      how about Uruguay in the semis and your neighbors to the north and south out?

      1. vruz

        we’re ecstatic about the unbelievable match we had yesterday.I was suprised that people were cheering for Germany here today. Maradona doesn’t know how to make good friends abroad. (and apparently, he also doesn’t know how to manage an unbeatable dream team)More or less the same thing for Brazil… save their most excellent gentleman coach, they entered the court too confident they had already won, never a good recipe for success.Uruguay made it really far this time, matching the last good performance of Mexico 1970… 40 years back. If we manage to get to the third place, we should be extremely happy and proud.I mean… just 3 million people. Unbelievable.

        1. fredwilson

          the end of that game, with the penalty on Suarez, the missed penalty kick,and then the two saves by your goalie was in my opinion the most drama todate in the world cup. it was brilliant tv entertainment

          1. vruz

            I don’t recall having seeing anything like that before. Not at such high stakes.In the end, character to stand firm until the very end won.And if history is any indication, that’s what makes a world cup of a difference…

  22. paramendra

    It must be a sweet feeling.

  23. Timothydevane

    Its a comfort-level and an understanding of what each person is capable of and as a result what the group is collectively capable, without any ‘discovery’. Time is of the essence with start-up and a familiar team can move the process along much faster.(if only some one would tell this to Robert Plant and Jimmy Page)

  24. adityac

    Have you noticed this only with previously successful teams or also with startups that didn’t quite make it to an exit and just exploded?

    1. fredwilson

      less so with the latter situation

  25. HowieG

    I think with the pressure to succeed eventually you get drawn to people you know you can count on.

  26. Javier rincon

    It’s not easy to find the right team, so I guess when you have it it’s a no brained to bring back your best generals. Great post

  27. Whitney Hess

    Add foursquare to the list — with Alex Rainert working again with Dennis Crowley.

    1. fredwilson

      yupi forgot about that one but it is exactly the same thing

      1. Whitney Hess

        I do wonder what it’s like though to go from co-founder status to employee. Maybe Alex will weigh in here 🙂

  28. jarid

    Perhaps a bit off topic for this blog, but the same holds true for non-startups. Almost every job I’ve taken, I’ve brought former colleagues with me. Team members that know each others’ strengths, weaknesses, and quirks are an asset for all companies.

    1. fredwilson

      so true jaridmany of the management lessons in startups are applicable in larger settings

  29. Steph Stevens

    we’ve gotten the band back together several times and it’s worked really well.

  30. Gabriel Gunderson

    Who wouldn’t bring the band back together if meant chilling with Elwood and Jake?

  31. Csongor

    Probably the core team represents that critical mass which makes the success.

  32. michaelmayes

    I happened to be listening to Miles Davis while reading this post, so I thought I’d do a little research about the bands he recorded with from 1950-1970. Jazz may the best genre for this analogy as the artists explore relationships with other artists more than most.In 1950, he worked with Bill Barber, Max Roach, and fourteen others on a pivotal early album, “Birth of Cool.” In 1957, on “Miles Ahead,” he brought Bill Barber back on Tuba, but introduced a set of seventeen new faces. Ten of these guys formed a “core team” that would continue on with Davis for the famous “Sketches from Spain” in 1960 (my favorite album). But he also brought in fifteen new faces to create the unique Spanish sound. And interestingly, in 1970 when Davis released “Bitches Brew” (my second fave), it was with an entirely new band – including Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, and Wayne Shorter to deliver a revolutionary jazz album. Davis continued on with other new and old faces, evolving his sound continually.An innovative sound often comes from introducing new artists into the mix (and keeping the best bandmates onboard), much like Miles Davis did over his career. I see the same in startups – bring along the best tuba player or drummer, but as you migrate to an electric sound, find the new guitar or bass rock star.(source: Miles Davis discography on wikipedia)

  33. Fernando Gutierrez

    And the product is really cool too.And thread-jacking for a friend is ok IMO… unless you have a million friends with cool products, in which case it can get tiresome!

  34. Fred T

    Now that is a good product, Charlie. When I first saw the picture, I thought it was going to rival the Square’s gadget.Definitely would like to do a “band reunion” if that’s what we can call it. I think most of the time members part ways due to personal differences or reasons, but if they can work it out, then why not?