Who Is The Best Co-Founder?
Apologies to Jean-Paul Sartre, but as someone who’s run a few startups of my own, I can sometimes agree. Sometimes I really think that one can do it independently – but that takes an exceptional combination of skills to be successful. Most of us need co-founders, but sometimes they are more trouble than they are worth.
All of my life growing up, my dad always had two jobs – his full-time job and the business he ran (or the family ran) on the side. He did have one job before my brother, and I came along, running a restaurant with his brother. When his brother passed away and sold the business, he got a job, but he always had the entrepreneurial bug (that probably explains my brother and me as well.) He started a restaurant with some partners up in a beach town north of Toronto called Balm Beach. There, he and 3 other partners ran the Georgian Grill, which is still there today. The Georgian Grill was one of those kinds of places you’d find right across from the beach – it had a counter, a bunch of tables, and a bunch of pinball machines and other arcade games in there. We’d go up there over the summer, and even though we were too young to work behind the counter (although I do remember being enlisted to roll the quarters from the pinball machines), it was cool. However, I’m sure that it wasn’t that cool for my dad and his partners. I remember a lot of arguing over who did what and what would be on the menu and all sorts of things.
Eventually, he sold his stake in that business and started up another one with his brother-in-law. Everything was going well until they got into some argument one day, and to this day (that was 40 years ago), his kids don’t talk to us. What it was about, we have no idea.
After that, he went into business (with yet another restaurant) with another guy who was previously a restaurateur, so we thought that might go well. For some reason, which was apparent later, his nickname was “O Χρίστoς o τρελός” which translates to “Crazy Chris.” Not sure why my dad thought it would be a good idea to go into business with someone nicknamed Crazy Chris; I guessed that he thought it was one of those reverse nicknames, like Little John. Which, unfortunately, it wasn’t.
After that, he decided to give up on partners altogether and started a cafeteria, which he ran, along with my mom, very well for several years before he retired. So his best co-founder turned out to be his wife.
My story is similar but different. My first startup was a guy I knew at the company we’d both previously worked at. He was the coder, and I was the idea and marketing guy. It worked great, but it took forever to launch since he was such a meticulous guy. By then, the market was pretty well covered. There were three of us in my second startup, but eventually, we all wanted to take it in different directions. I was the coder in that one. Eventually, I got tired of the continual failure to launch. My third startup was a great collection of people who treated each other as equals on the day-to-day work, but we constantly disagreed on the direction. My fourth startup was really smooth, maybe, partly because, like my dad, one of my co-founders is my wife.
What’s the moral of the story: sure, some can do almost everything on their own, come up with the idea, code it, market it, sell it, get investors for it, etc., etc., etc., but those people are pretty rare. If you are one of those people, you are probably already pretty successful in life.
For the rest of us, we need that other skill set to be a complete business. Maybe I’m good at coming up with ideas; maybe you’re good at selling, maybe you’re good at coding, maybe you’re good at filing patents. The fact is that you may all be good at something – but you must all be fully aligned and engaged in moving the business forward. You must put your business above yourself, you must all work for the good of the business, and you must ALL compromise. If some do, and not others, resentment builds.
In some ways, it’s a bit like a marriage. Maybe that’s why husband and wife teams sometimes work out.
But I think the most compelling reason to have multiple founders is this: I truly believe that to be successful in anything, it’s the right people knowing about you (not just knowing the right people). Unless you are an awesome, ceaseless networker, you will need a network of people to know about your product. They tell two friends, and so on, and so on. And when you’ve got multiple founders, they can all toot your horn; they can all get the word out and make the connections.
So is hell other founders? Guess it depends on who they are. If you’ve run startups, how did things go with your co-founders – did you all work together well – or was it a constant battle to get things done? Let’s chat about it in the comments below…