The Care And Feeding Of Co-Founders

The most successful startups are founded by persons whose skills are complementary and by working together they bridge the entire spectrum of skills necessary to exit the startup cradle alive and stand strong as a successful company.

In theory that can take the form of a visionary, a creative person, a product development person, an operations person, a marketing person, a tech person, and a finance person. That is a lot of potential co-founders, no?

In the real world — for goodness sake it is a real, unapologetic, brutal world out there, isn’t it? — an individual co-founder typically has more than a single area of expertise, experience, or skill; and, there is often the chance to outsource one of the skills — such as a virtual Chief Financial Officer, or buy the tech package you need to actually get to market.

Co-founders also have to be by mandate “learners” and can learn on the job. It is essential to grow and learn in the startup racket unless you are shepherding Startup No. 4. Then, you can “seat of the pants” it, but you paid a lot of dues for those pants, didn’t you, serial entrepreneur?

What cannot be outsourced is the underlying vision and product. Those have to come from the founders’ hearts. If you can couple vision and product and know why, you can hire the rest of the talent and learn what you don’t know.

You will be amazed by what you do not know

There is a huge learning curve that is just learning how business works. It is drudgery, but it is important and it has to be done.

Opening a bloody bank account these days is a major league pain in the ass since the Patriot Act.

Getting an EIN is as complicated as cold fusion. Haha. Sorry. Cold fusion is harder, but only slightly. Try to get insurance, liability insurance.

How does one find that complementary mix, Big Red Car?

Great question, dear reader.

I suppose the answer is you kiss a lot of frogs until you find the right co-founder(s); or, two persons arrive at the identical problem looking for a solution at the exact same instant.

It is hard, but you do the hard things first so you can eventually do the easy things later.

The single most important decision any founder makes is with whom they will co-found that company and build it. A bad relationship or one that goes bad can kill a great idea.

How do you maintain that relationship?

Before we get there, co-founders need to  spend some time upfront before the real work begins scheming on Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Culture, and Values. Even a bit of work committing that to an agreed basis (written) for founding a company will have tremendous utility.

Next, design you own jobs around the skill set you bring to the vision. Listen to me: design your job to play to your strengths and hire out the stuff you hate to do — to the extent you can.

I used to opine that only 15% of what I did was the work I wanted to do, the raison d’etre for going into business myself, and that 85% was necessary drudgery.

I have worked with a great number of multiple co-founder teams that had to deal with the reality of needing a single one of them to be the Chief Executive Officer.

Organizations, particularly successful organizations, require structure and discipline to compete. They also require a single chief executive to run the shop.

It is apochryphal the number of companies that are founded by a strong visionary who becomes the CEO and an equally strong product person who is the operational soul of the company. They are equally important to the success of the company.

Care and feeding, Big Red Car?

Ahhh, yes, dear reader.

 1. Write bloody job descriptions and re-write them every six months as things evolve.

 2. Discuss the business from a strategic perspective — the view from 30,000 feet — every six months. Off. Site. Somewhere relaxing.

Start with yellow stickies and whiteboards, but write it down.

 3. Solve problems founder-to-founder and never, ever in front of non-founder employees. Don’t let employees ever see y’all disagreeing about anything.

 4. Take a minute and consider things from your c0-founder’s perspective. He or she may be out trying to raise money and getting a lot of doors slammed in the face whilst you are working on the creative stuff, the fun stuff.

Bit of emotional intelligence and empathy?

 5. Talk about the hardest thing to talk about: How does this make you feel and is this what you want to do?

One of the greatest failings I see with startups, particularly startups that are experiencing a bit of success, is failing to cast the hair shirt into the fire pit once it is no longer necessary.

For goodness sake, the benefit for being a private business — even the Internal Revenue Service agrees to this — is to create and fund a healthy and fun lifestyle. Take care of yourself.

 6. Force yourself and your co-founder to answer: “What are the three things about this company or our relationship that irk you?”

Do not pretend this is not true. Make them, to the extent you can, go away.

This candor will pay a huge dividend. It is hard to do, but so is conflict.

 7. With some regular time period, express your gratitude for what each of y’all bring to the party and make it a party.

If you can’t do this, hire a facilitator and get some outside help.

Bottom line it, Big Red Car, getting a mani-pedi in 10 minutes

Business is built on people. The values of the founders’ are the values of the organization.

Value your co-founders’ and work on that relationship.

A business partnership is far more difficult than a marriage.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.