• Advice

How to build a product team

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

Preparing a product for sale is difficult. There are many steps to take along the path from the first idea down the long winding road to the sales of the finished product.

Recently, I wrote about the importance of having a process for any project. The process can be thought of as a road map to completing a project. Unfortunately, not everyone who has a great product idea knows how to navigate the path to the end. Most of the time you only know a small section of that path, if you know any of it at all. That is why it is important to assemble a great team.

Each piece of the team helps to reveal the missing sections of that road map, like putting together a puzzle to reveal the completed image.

Make or Buy?

One of the first things to think about when developing your team is to think about whether you want an internal team or an external team. A big part of this decision should be based on what your final goals are, for the product and for yourself or your company. The direction you chose will help you to perform a basic “make or buy” decision for the pieces of your team.

Is it worthwhile for you to bring on a sales team full time as employees? Or, perhaps you could contract out the sales and marketing of your product to a third party firm. Are you going to set up in house manufacturing? Or, will you hire a third party manufacturer to build and ship your product on demand? Do you have the projected demand for a team of designers after this project is completed? Or, should you contract a team for this short term project?

Figuring out what type of business you want to run will help you decided what type of team you need. Take advantage of the services available through third party contractors when they seem like the more reasonable and conservative option.

Play to Your Strengths

Now that you know what you want your business to be, it’s time to find your role in that business. Are you the head of Sales? Marketing? Design? Purchasing? Maybe you aren’t the head of anything, just a member of the team. Taking a look at your own strengths as they pertain to your business, how do they fit into the plan? When budgets are tight it is important to get the most out of every resource, and that includes yourself. Keep learning and developing your strengths and find new ways that you can improve the business.

With that said, knowing and playing to your strengths will also help you find the areas where you are not strong. These are the areas where you need to hire for your development team. Many people will advise you to hire sales first and most frequently, but if you cannot deliver what you sell then no amount of sales will save you. Making sure that your team is well balanced will ensure that you can satisfy your customers’ demands.

What to Look For

OK, we now know the roles we need to fill. We know which ones we want to be internal to our team, and which we want to have externally filled by third parties. Now it is time to pick our team. Much like a schoolyard ball game we have to evaluate all of our available players and chose the one that is best for our situation. Here are a few things to consider when deciding on your team.

  • Experience - Each role will require a different level of talent and know-how. Experience is a great indicator of both. Finding a candidate with relevant experience to your project is ideal.
  • Education - Not all positions need the same level of education, often experience can make up for a lack of education. Sometimes though a certain level of education is needed to complete the tasks properly.
  • Certifications/Licenses - For certain positions it can be nice to have certifications from trusted organizations, especially when hiring an external team. Think of these like diplomas for demonstrating competence in various areas.
  • References - Reviews, testimonials, and references can usually be attained for individuals and external teams. These can be useful for learning about the character and abilities.
  • Portfolio - If available will demonstrate the type, quality, and grade of work for an individual or team.
  • Interviews - Of course sometimes you just need to talk with someone to find out if there is chemistry.

How you pick your team is your own brand of magic, the above are just a few examples of things to consider.


In conclusion, completing a product development project can be a daunting and difficult task, just go and look at the dozens of failed crowd-funding campaigns.

Creating a plan and putting in place a team that is prepared to execute that plan is fundamental to project success. Whether the team is built of employees or contractors it is important to find the right balance of characteristics to fit together and form a qualified team. When budgets are tight utilizing every resource available includes digging in and getting your hands dirty as well, even if you are just leading the way.

Chris is a Mechanical Engineer and Designer. He is one of four owners of Design Build Consulting LLC, an independent design firm in Raleigh NC.

Chris Sturgis Chris is a Mechanical Engineer and Designer. He is one of four owners of Design Build Consulting LLC, an independent design firm in Raleigh NC.