The best decision I ever made was choosing to work with my cofounder.
It was a late, damp hour in uptown New Orleans when David pitched the idea of Carpe to me. “It’s a brilliant concept, man — we’ll be selling three versions of this by fall. We’ll have one for men, then one for women, and one for the athletes!”
It was a terrible concept, I thought to myself, but I listened to him. The lights were out in our apartment, the flat we were sharing with 9 other Robertson Scholars across three bedrooms. David’s leg was propped up on the couch, his knee wrapped in a cooling pad to reduce the swelling from a recent surgery — there were little beads of moisture collecting on the chilled surface.
He went on, “nobody’s made something like this, Kasper. So many people have sweaty hands, and nobody’s made a solution”.
I said, “wait” — I crept into the bedroom where two of the other scholars lay asleep, pulled my laptop from underneath my bed, and returned to David. I searched “hand antiperspirant” on Amazon, and then Google — in both cases, a long list of products came up.
David paused. “I mean… those must suck, man. Nobody uses those, they have like 10 reviews on Amazon and my dermatologist said there’s nothing out there.”
“Or, you know, they’re out there and not selling because nobody wants a product like this. Have you tried these?”
He sat still for a second, then adjusted his injured leg, saying “no, man, but… look, there’s a big opportunity here, I just know it.”
“You said these must suck, we need to see if they suck.”
I had planned to be in bed two hours prior, but something about this conversation was filling me with an energy that I hadn’t felt in months. I selected the most prominent hand antiperspirant on Amazon, and typed in the shipping address of our summer flat. “It’ll be here in two days,” I said, and with a click on Place Your Order, that was it.
David had been right. The other products out there sucked — nobody had made a good antiperspirant for sweaty hands. And that first evening turned into a few days in a nearby coffee shop, reviewing products and the science of antiperspirants, and forum posts by desperate people with unbearably sweaty hands.
And those few days turned into a few weeks of nonstop conversation, of creativity and possibility and excitement. And it was right about then that I got the feeling that I’d met someone truly incredible in David, someone whom I worked with better than anybody before.
Nearly four years later, I type this article here in the Carpe office, feet away from a warehouse filled with millions of dollars of our product. David had been right about Carpe — and I’d been right about David.
I’ve known in every moment since that first summer that despite all the talk of formula and marketing insights to which we publicly attribute our success, the real reason Carpe has grown and prospered has been the partnership at its core — the union of David and myself. But while the strength of that union is as real to me as my own hands, understanding the reasons it works has taken years of reflection through struggles, victories, and brawls.
Every partnership is different, and the nuances that sustain them are too broad to capture. But I know that there’s no lesson I’ve learned in Carpe more important than my bond with David, and so, in the hope that it may help someone just beginning their first flirtations with a cofounder, I want to share here the three core, inviolable reasons why David and I make an unstoppable duo. And why I, to continue the love metaphor, “am the luckiest man on earth”.
Reason 1: We each know the other person is smarter than us
This is the simplest requirement for a great cofounder, but one that can’t be changed by any force of effort or relationship-building. David is, simply put, so smart that I have never once thought “well he can’t understand this, but I can — he’s just not at my level here”. We each deeply believe that the other is smarter than us. Forgive the paradox — the point is that we will never dismiss the other’s take on a matter because we feel more intellectually qualified.
When starting a company, there are so many different challenges to overcome and problems to solve — as a founder, I think I’ve done pretty well with most of them; but with every new one, I know there’s a huge risk that my choice could be very wrong. The best way to minimize this risk is by gathering different viewpoints — but if those viewpoints come from someone who can’t understand the situation as well as I can (that’s my definition of “not smart”), they’re too easy to dismiss.
Not so if you’re working with someone who’s smarter than you — if someone disagrees with you, and you know that they’re smarter than you, then they’re probably right. So suddenly, you go from dismissing challenges to your view, to seriously questioning how certain that view is — after all, a smarter person thinks it’s wrong. When David has disagreed with me, I’ve often been right — but I’ve never moved forward without both of us agreeing on the choice, and this has saved me the many times that I’ve been obliviously wrong.
This rule is so fundamental that I don’t think about it most days — I take it for granted in the people I choose to work with. But if you’re going to fully trust your cofounder as you trust yourself, you need to trust their intellect. There is no compromise here.
Reason 2: We see the world in contrast
And yet, despite David and I each being smarter than the other, we seem to approach every new issue at Carpe in disagreement — David wants to save money in an area I think we should strengthen, I want to fire an underperforming employee that David thinks should be coached. Since David’s smarter than me, I realize I might be wrong — and we talk until we both understand each other.
This leads to some fun moments, when a fierce argument is stopped by one of us saying “actually, I hadn’t considered that point, you’re 100% right here”. And so we make the right choice — two perspectives more often finding it than a single one could.
But those two perspectives wouldn’t be of much use if David and I saw eye to eye on everything. We don’t — we disagree constantly. And I’m certain that this is a critical component of our success.
Every management consultant out there has a favorite personality test that could uniquely show why David and I disagree — i.e. which underlying value differences form our two perspectives. Yet I don’t think a lot of first dates between potential cofounders include finding Myers Briggs types over beer, so I’ve long thought about how to quickly express the perspective difference between David and myself. And I think it’s this: We’d get pretty bored hanging out together if it weren’t for Carpe.
Obviously, David and I want the same things — otherwise we wouldn’t be in business together. And we both think extremely highly of each other — as I explained in Reason 1. But the things that excite us, the things that we most enjoy doing and learning about and assimilating into our minds and judgement structures — those are completely different things.
Sure, there’s overlap — we both like to speculate about the economy. But David can’t understand how I enjoy solving the math problems that plague our development, accounting, and operations — just as I can’t understand how he enjoys meeting and keeping up with all the people that help drive our sales, marketing, and partnerships forward.
David really isn’t the person I want to spend all day talking to — because if he were, we’d be too alike. And that would make our team unbalanced to the point of being blind: We wouldn’t see the options we hadn’t considered until our company was a flaming wreck behind us.
Our differences are how we avoid that wreck — they’re how we stay the course.
Reason 3: We never doubt the other’s loyalty
A cofounder who’s smarter than you and sees the world quite differently than you — those qualities are rare indeed, and you’ll be lucky to meet someone like that. But the final core of my relationship with David — the most important one — could not have been found in any way besides years of work together: It’s our absolute loyalty to each other.
This is the trait of David’s that makes me feel like the luckiest cofounder in the world — because if you asked me to find another partner who shared it, I wouldn’t know where to start. And yes, unfortunately, like the previous two, this trait is absolutely critical in a great cofounder.
There’s no way to really assess loyalty until you’ve been through hell with someone and seen if they stuck with you all the way down to the bottom. And in each of our forays through the brimstone, David has. We both know we’d sooner see the company fail than betray the other person — and this is what gives us the strength we need to make the bold choices that bring Carpe success.
This goes well beyond respect and fairness — it’s difficult to work in any capacity with someone who might try to cheat or defraud you, but this goes deeper than that. This goes so deep that even if I knew David had made a grave error out of some extreme character flaw — I would not allow him to be held to any judgment separate from my own. If we fall, we will fall together.
This is an extreme stance — it could be the company’s ruin, or my own. But nothing short of this allows for the power of a truly equal cofounder relationship. Nothing short of this allows me to tell the board exactly what I think is best for the company, and know that I will remain on that board so long as David does. Nothing short of this allows me to work tirelessly every day to prove to David that he’s wrong about something, and know that even if I discover I’m completely wrong and have wasted both of our time, he will only respect me more for it. Nothing short of this allows me to fall asleep every night as I go through the startup roller coaster, oscillating from billion-dollar future to imminent ruin — because amidst all the doubt, the single most important thing is certain: And that is David, and that is his loyalty to me, and that is my loyalty to him.
About two years after the late night of Carpe’s conception, a weight on my shoulders was growing heavier every week: In our initial incorporation, David and I had decided that he’d have more equity than me, since Carpe was originally his idea. But after two years of sweat, and panic, and raw, grinding work, we’d learned the truth that only founders can fully appreciate: The idea was nothing. It was our equal work, sacrificing all from day one, that made Carpe into what it is today.
And David agreed. And he gave me a massive sum of his equity — making us equal partners in the business.
That’s the cofounder that makes me feel lucky beyond measure, undeserving and humbled every day. That’s the cofounder whom I will never doubt, whom I will stand by through any horror. That’s the cofounder who made us Carpe — and the cofounder without whom we’d be nothing.
The traits that make David amazing are too numerous to put in this essay, or even a book — and the complexities of our relationship are an exponent on those traits. But strip away all the “nice-to-haves” and you are left with three core pillars of who we are together: Smart, Different, and Loyal.
Finding a cofounder with whom you can build these pillars is nothing short of a statistical miracle; it’s nothing short of finding your “soulmate”. But as anyone who’s gone on a hundred terrible dates and yet keeps hope alive knows, being alone is an unacceptable alternative — each of the perspectives and balances and securities I’ve mentioned in this piece would be alien to me if I were a solo founder.
So to the budding entrepreneur reading this, I wish you one thing: Find your soulmate. It’s more important than any other factor for the success of the company you want to start. I know that four years ago, on a late, damp hour in uptown New Orleans, I chose to work with mine. And that was the best decision I ever made.