What do great founding teams do that others don't? Is it merely a matter of applying technical or business skills, or is there something more?
In How To Start A Startup, Paul Graham identifies the team as a key ingredient in the recipe for success:
You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible. Most startups that fail do it because they fail at one of these. A startup that does all three will probably succeed.
Paul explains how to recruit a great founding team. But what do you do once you've assembled them? Build a product, yes. Talk to customers also. And although these are necessary to succeed, they are not sufficient.
I submit that the real job of the founding team is to do things that can only be done during the founding moment.
Foundings are not normal. They offer a rare grace period where eccentricity is celebrated and myths are made. The more a team can differentiate during the founding period, the easier it will be to recruit others and uncover secrets that no one else is looking for. These habits become enshrined as traditions and create the culture which differentiates a group from everyone else.
Traditions help to define a group and give its members a sense of identity and purpose. They also provide a way of continuity, linking the past with the present and future to extend the founding moment.
The best founding teams focus on creating traditions that emphasize their differences from others.