Co-Founding A Startup Is Like Getting Married
Genesis 2: 18
“It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
You will hear many say their productivity and best years in business started when they got married. I know a group of folks that have chosen the “wrong” partner and experienced the worst years. Anyway, we aren’t talking marriages here.
More often than not, we all tend to agree that two heads are better than one and we need a partner in this journey called life. We also need partners in this Startup Journey.
I co-founded Bluechip Technologies Limited in 2008 with my partner- Kazeem Tewogbade and though we didn’t outline some of the “rules” I am about to share here, we surely believed in them and practice them day in and day out.
Firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing. How well do you know your co-founder? My partner-Kazeem and I worked together on a project in 2007 for about a year and we got really close. I came to understand his mannerisms, his approach to work and got references on his character from hearing people talk about him. Above all, I saw his integrity put to test in several scenarios, and the outcomes affirmed my trust in him.
Trust will also define the kind of personal relationship you have with the co-founder.The kind of personal relationship you have with each other will no doubt be carried into the startup. So people who say that “its business, it’s not personal”, fail to realize that businesses thrive on relationships and the best relationships are personal.
Success and money will also test the level of trust you have put in the co-founder; so before getting in bed a with co-founder you need to understand his/her approach to handling money. Is he/she fond of borrowing and not paying back? Does he/she live above their means?
Define Roles and Responsibilities
Decide what role(s) each founder will play and let everyone play their position. If you are the defender in the team, your primary job isn’t scoring goals. I do have a technical background but it was clear right from the beginning that Kazeem had more experience and more technical aptitude so that was a no brainer for us. What was also clear, was my business development and salesman skills. So we quickly defined our roles and responsibilities in that regard and today when you see both of us, you can quickly tell who the technical guy is and who the salesman is.
If you don’t define responsibilities you will find out that you are both in each other space and that will bring a lot of friction to the business and your relationship.
Don’t over-value your input
You are currently contributing the most to the bottom-line today, what about tomorrow? There is the human tendency to feel like the Most Valuable Player when you are the one contributing to the most to the company at a particular point in time, especially if you feel this is the case more often than not. I have seen at least 10 partnerships crumble due to this factor. My take on this is that: As long as the other party is doing his/her best, don’t sweat it. Chances are the tide will turn at some point during this startup business marathon.
Don’t be overbearing
Believe in decisions made by the other party. In a way this also draws from my point on trust and defining roles & responsibilities. You need to trust your co-founders ability to deliver. If you have an input on an area that’s typically not your turf, make your point without being condescending even if you believe your input is superior.
Influence of Outsiders
You will be surprised to realize that you have “shareholders” in this business who you haven’t allocated shares to. They come in the form of Spouses, Friends, Siblings and your extended family. These shareholders will provide their “professional” opinion and judgment on your business and cofounder. My approach has always been to sieve the noise out and always remember my loyalty remains to the business and not the outsiders. I agree this could be very difficult; how does a married founder fend off a persuasive spouse with his/her opinions coming at you day and night?
Deal with disagreements immediately
You will disagree on several matters from time to time; hopefully not on the vision of the company but your different approaches to achieving it. Kazeem and I have adopted an approach to deal with any disagreement or divergent views before we leave the room or get off the phone. Leaving disagreements to fester creates that bad blood you don’t need. Deal with it and move on. No need to keep scores also on who won and who lost. The only numbers that matters are in your financial statements.
All the best then!.