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Is Your Startup Team Stuck in a Game of Thrones?

What to Avoid in Your Startup Team Cast of Characters

When starting and growing a company, many of your most important decisions will center around people, such as who you partner with initially as co-founders and who you bring into the company later as part of the startup team.  The people you bring on board, especially during the early stages, can make or break the success of your company.

As business attorneys, we have come across co-founders and teams that work together like well-oiled machines, and others that are so toxic to an organization, they turn day-to-day operations into epic battles.

To help you recognize who (and what) to avoid when building your startup team, we’re going to share with you some insight into the difficult cast of characters that we have encountered along the way. And because we are still geeking out over the recent episodes of HBO’s series Game of Thrones, what better way to give you a flavor of their personalities than to showcase them using the GOT villains we all love to hate:

1. Queen Cersei Lannister – If it’s always about them, then they will never be right for your company

There was little to no doubt that the growing company and its stockholders were much less important than the personal and financial interests of this co-founder, resulting in corporate drama and significant expense when it came time to manage this co-founder’s transition out of the company.  Instead of supporting the company’s growth, this co-founder chose to hold the company hostage at every opportunity, and she was always asking “what’s in it for me?”  Thankfully, this co-founder did not end up blowing up the company ala Cersei and the Sept, but there were a lot of sparks along the way to light the fuse.

2. Joffrey Baratheon – There’s no amount of coaching that can cure immaturity and incompetence

This co-founder of this startup team simply was not ready for any management role in the company.  The business skills, the people skills, and the emotional IQ, among other things, were seriously lacking, and this co-founder’s hot temper didn’t help much either. After causing havoc with the management team, employees, and potential business partners, this co-founder was shown the door, which is always better than getting poisoned by your wife’s grandmother!

3. Lord Walder Frey – Trust your gut when choosing your startup team

Something seemed off with this co-founder from the beginning, and it was only a matter of time until he started to show his true colors.  This ultimate backstabber was solely focused on pushing his other co-founder (an actual gentleman) out of the company and threatened to ruin the company if he did not get his way.  Unfortunately, he did get his way, but we’ll see if his bad behavior (and karma) will cause Winter to come for his company at some point soon.

4. Lord Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger) – Keep your friends close, but don’t keep your startup team frienemies closer

Unbeknownst to the CEO, a former business partner with bad intentions saddled up to the scientific co-founders of his startup.  The former business partner’s actions were calculated and manipulative, with the goal of worming his way into the company to reap the benefits of the company’s success.  He later claimed that he was an inventor on certain of the company’s patents and extorted money from the CEO and the company in order to resolve the resulting intellectual property issues.  Be careful, because this guy certainly was a Master of Coin.

5. Ramsay Bolton – If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention

We are thankful to report that we have not encountered a company with a Ramsay Bolton in its ranks.  If you do, our strong advice is to turn the other way, run like crazy, shut down your company, start a new one and call yourself a serial entrepreneur. (You might also consider acquiring a few security dogs to protect you from this maniac.)

To Conclude:

Of course, we have seen a number of companies that have excellent co-founders and team members who exhibit the admirable qualities of Jon Snow, Lady Brienne, Samwell Tarly, and others.  Now that you know who and what to avoid when building your team, here’s what you need to know to bring on the right people:

In the game of thrones, much like in the game of business, you either win or you die.  Choosing the right startup team will help you and your company achieve the former and reap the resulting benefits atop the iron throne.

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