At the initial phases of founding a startup, having a co-founder, or business partner, can seem like the best option. After all, having two massively invested individuals and two pairs of hands to share the work certainly seems to make the hardest growth phase more manageable.
Additionally, entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, and Paul Allen did it, among several other legendary startup examples. This has led to the idea that co-founders are simply the way that it is done.
As with many things, reality is often more complex than the ideal. Sometimes you have a group of people working together as a team, sometimes you have a main person and several part-time helpers, and sometimes you can handle the whole process yourself.
Most people believe that a co-founder is necessary simply due to the fact that many successful companies have had them. However, are startup co-founders truly helpful, or can it be more ideal to operate as a solo founder?
Entrepreneurship is often lonely, comprised of long hours and sleepless nights. Bringing in intelligent people allows you to grow by sharing some of the weight of building a business, but it can lead to no one wanting to address the growing pains and problems that come with running the startup.
Creating a culture that allows transparency can fix many of these issues, but it can be hard for a founder to go to the board and outright discuss the problems they are dealing with for fear of being fired.
One of the benefits of having a business partner is that you can have an honest, high-level discussion about what is and isn’t working. These conversations stave off the loneliness and allow you to have peer-to-peer discussions, sometimes finding ways to improve your situation and share the decision-making responsibilities with someone you can trust.
Finding the right co-founder can be difficult. While having multiple individuals in a company with similar skill sets is not a bad thing at all, having a co-founder who possesses a complementary skill set is significantly more beneficial.
Having one individual who excels at PR and conferences while the other prefers working on your business’ good or service certainly makes balancing responsibilities simpler. Having two business people can lead to a competition for the spotlight, while having two technical people can lead to an excellent product with no press coverage to allow it to shine.
Technical co-founders are fantastic because you do not have to worry as much about finding and losing developers and engineers during the creation process. Non-technical founders/co-founders can allow your company to secure deals, partnerships, fundraising, positive press, and even find reliable talent to hire more easily. Both are tremendously valuable to a company just getting into the market.
Other important factors are trust, respect, and communication. You should consider how long you have known your potential co-founders as well as if their values and goals in life are a match for yours.
As long as you believe you could be excellent partners and share a similar outlook, the longer you have known each other can be a factor that increases your chances of succeeding in your venture.
Thinking about your co-founder as a marriage partner can be somewhat helpful. Marrying a person you just met can lead to things not working out further down the road. This situation is not uncommon for businesses as well. The consequences of a break-up of the co-founder relationship extends beyond the relationship between the founders.
This kind of change could affect your relationship with your customers, vendors, investors, and employees. Dealing with a break-up diverts valuable time and resources that could be devoted to running a successful startup.
Having two founders who disagree on the direction of a company causes tremendous internal strife. Having one person with the vision and numerous others who support that cause, allows for better long term performance.
Be sure when selecting founding members or hiring employees that they match your vision and bring what you need to the table. While having a similar vision among co-founders is critical, so is ensuring that there is room for counterpoints and reality checks to be voices. Having trust in your co-founders allows you to value and respect these other viewpoints, keeping your vision grounded in reality.
Firing people who are not aligned with the company’s vision is an unpleasant but necessary part of success for your startup. This could be a co-founder who isn’t being productive or simply an employee who doesn’t match the goal you are striving toward.
The perfect co-founder may not exist, because none of us are perfect. However, there are countless hardworking, highly intelligent, and savvy potential co-founders out there. You might be one of them!
When co-founders pair well together, share a vision, and are unafraid to disagree, there can often be huge successes. That said, like many things in life, having a co-founder is only a good idea if it helps you achieve your goals.
Having another individual in your company that runs counter to your outcomes can lead to long-term problems. But, involving another person who supports your vision can help you establish a successful business, one that will grow for years to come.
Choose wisely when bringing anyone aboard your company, and make sure your founding team is serious about what they want out of the business, the startup idea itself, and perhaps even life in general.