Having a co-founder can be an incredible blessing. But the wrong fit spells strife and unending conflict.
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There’s nothing quite like that magical moment when two people decide to create a beautiful life together – butterflies in the stomach, loss of appetite, happily sleepless nights, and that unmistakable bounce in your step as imaginations of what the future might look like populate your dreams.
Of course, I’m not talking about love. I’m talking about starting a business.
Just like modern marriage, the budding relationship between startup co-founders is a delicate dance that should be handled carefully lest the courtship turn from a happily-ever-after to a divorce-court nightmare.
The unfortunate reality for most startup entrepreneurs (including this one – until I took my lumps and learned my lesson) is that this new business venture you’re so excited about today will collapse into a fiery mass of twisted metal and broken hearts. Which begs the question:
Why bother with co-founders?
Strange as it may sound, I’m a big fan of having co-founders. As John C. Maxwell observed, “Nothing of significance was ever achieved by an individual acting alone.” Think about the ‘greats’ in any field, and you, too, will easily see this pattern. Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak to help turn his vision into reality, Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, had Bob Bowman coaching him to victory, and when Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington, he didn’t come alone.
The right founding team can be the difference between a strap succeeding or failing, as having a partner in your corner to spur you on during the long, hard days of starting up is invaluable. Ideally, your co-founders will bring strengths, resources, and characteristics that you do not possess but are necessary to the future success of your enterprise. Together, we can become more than the sum of your individual parts.
People are the reason startups succeed. Or fail.
Don’t get me wrong, having co-founders is not without its challenges, for as soon as you invite a co-founder into the mix, you must now go about the difficult work of finding consensus between two or more perspectives, values, and belief systems. What makes this work particularly challenging is that these things are largely intangible, difficult to put into language, and not easily observed.
To make your work a little bit easier, here are three proven principles to help ensure that you and your co-founders find your way to success.
Focus on the relationship. The business is secondary.
It’s amazing to me how many times I hear founders and founding teams lament the challenges in their team dynamics. Yet when asked how they decided to get into business, the story starts with “an idea.”
Excitement is contagious, and typically when a founder meets a prospective co-founder, there are sparks. The founder speaks emphatically with wild hand gestures about how their big idea will change the world. The co-founder-to-be sits there wide-eyed, heart racing as visions of fame and fortune dance through their head. Right then and there, in that minute, a decision to move forward together is made.
I’ve been on both sides of that conversation many times and understand the intoxicating effect of ‘startup energy completely.’ It’s a Siren’s song and the death of many a startup.
Deciding to get into business like this, however alluring it may be, is akin to waking up the morning after a one-night stand and proposing to still hungover stranger in the bed next to you. It’s insane.
Success is built on relationships, and you need to put a little more time into yours.
Align values and priorities in advance
I know that things feel really good right now, but if you’re still in the early stages of your startup, you’re viewing the world through rose-colored glasses. However enjoyable the ‘new car smell,’ you must begin the work of building the business if you want your business to succeed.
Business building in its simplest form is the act of
Date Your Co-Founders Before You Marry Them