I've been at startups for nearly 15 years. I've seen teams come and go, gel and snow, win and blow. In any case, it makes or breaks your startup, often even more so than particular market propositions you might be placing. Generally, what happens is the founding people in early stages like to surround themselves with comfortable, familiar, trustworthy beings. It's easily done when you're using the same formula as your last startup. The challenge is, startups are done differently damn near each time due to market conditions or opportunities. So you tend to need different attributes from people at your new company than you did at your old company.
I'm going to tell tales about some bad team situations and some good team situations. In the voice of the 24 guy, it all starts now.
I had to make a key hire, one that would function as well as it looked on paper. Optics is important early on. I called someone I'll refer to as "Paul" that I almost hired in a prior life to fill the role. I thought Paul would be a great hire. He was saddled in a great opportunity already though, so he was not on the market. So then I called "Amy", also someone I'd considered hiring in a prior life. Amy had a strong background in lots of big name companies. Unfortunately, Amy's skill set did not translate to the nimble needs of a start up. So then I hired "Rick" to tie us over, in a more junior position to Amy's. Rick really had some goods, but Rick couldn't harvest them. And we couldn't harvest them for Rick. It got so bad that Rick leaked some false junk about
the company to the press. This person had to go for obvious reasons. I operated that role myself for a near term. Then I ran back into Paul (after 2 years). Paul was loose in the socket at his job and was hungry for something new. It all worked out in the wash, as Paul's really making a huge impact already. Here's an example of taking 2 years and 2 casualties to find the right fit.
The people business is a funny (not like a clown) thing.
1. Know what DNA you need. It takes two to make a thing go right
2. Big company people aren't startup people, and usually vice versa.
3. Read "Top Grading".
UPDATE: Paul is in fact Aaron Burcell, formerly of Podshow, Stata Labs and WebTV. This guy rocks.