Ideas Don’t Build Companies, Teams Do: Speaker Series Recap

by Tatum Lynch

Elias Torres sat down with High Alpha Managing Partner Scott Dorsey for a fireside chat to discuss many topics, including why your teams are more important than your product, how your customers hold the key to finding product-market fit, and why this is the best time to start a company. 

Elias Torres is the Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Drift, a conversational-marketing platform that combines Conversational Marketing, Conversational Sales, and Conversational Service with artificial intelligence (AI) to power personalized experiences at all stages of the customer journey. It is one of the only Latinx-founded companies to achieve a $1B valuation. Before Drift, Elias was the VP of Engineering at Hubspot and Founder and CTO of Performable

Building a great company from scratch is no small feat. Elias sat down with our audience to share his secrets for success: (1) build teams first, products second, and (2) talk to customers. Below are some of my key takeaways. Bonus: You can watch the whole session in the recording at the end of this post.

Don’t Let Your Ego Be a Blocker

Two brains are better than one. Elias said, “To those founders on the line thinking about starting a company and trying to decide whether they go at it alone or bring on a co-founder, go with a co-founder.” Bringing on a partner can help you and your business grow in more ways than one. 

According to Elias, “If you join someone equal to you and your experience, you will not learn anything from that person.” Diverse thought and experience power creativity. Potential founders must not be afraid to select a team that excels in areas where they may struggle. Elias said, “You can always grow…but do not let that ego stop you from being a partner.”

Brilliant Ideas Are Only As Good As The People Executing Them

Without the team, you cannot build anything. However, the traits that define a great team at a Fortune 500 firm may differ from what makes a team great at a start-up. What should companies be looking for in talent? Elias recommends that “you have to be open to hiring people open to something new and something ambiguous. Something that is not going to be a clear path and where success is not guaranteed.” 

Start-up teams must be scrappy and customer-driven. How can companies best assess these traits? Elias recommended a few questions he turns to when interviewing engineers.

  1. Tell me about a time you came across a problem. How did you approach solving it?
  2. Do you have a wealth of knowledge from the top of the stack to the bottom?
  3. Have you learned multiple languages, or is there only one that rules them all?
  4. Do you talk to customers?

Elias knows if he wants to hire the candidate within the first five minutes of the interview. But finding top talent is only half the battle. The real victory is getting the candidate to accept your offer. For the rest of his interviews, Elias focuses on connecting with the candidate and selling them on the business. 

Your Leading Indicator for Product-Market Fit is Your Customers

Finding product-market fit exponentially increases a start-up’s success, but how can companies build a product that customers repeatedly buy? Elias says the answer is simple: you must talk to them. 

No one understands the problems businesses are trying to solve better than the customers. According to Elias, positive survey results, high NPS scores, and great reviews are not enough. Physically talking to all your customers–not just the ones who voluntarily leave reviews and take surveys–will dig up insights and issues that will be extremely valuable in tailoring your product. 

The Next Internet Boom Is Here

If you want to be a founder, it seems like this has to be your playbook: build a company that is (1) trying to solve an already known problem and (2) is not in a crowded market. It is not a bad strategy. Most investors and leaders in the space will tell you not to create your own category.

But what is going to be the next internet boom? What is going to be the next iPhone? What is going to be the next category? Elias said it is already here.

The rise of AI has opened the door to disrupting industries. Even with the down market, Elias said, “This is the best time to start a company. Everybody is wishing they can create an AI-native, AI-first company and solve the next set of problems. You have a great opportunity.”

Final Thoughts

If you missed the event, you can watch the conversation with Elias here. Every quarter, we sit down with leaders like Elias to learn from their experiences. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get updates on upcoming events.