They say that happily married couples begin to look like each other as they age and grow older. I don’t know how far that is true, but I do know for sure that getting the right co-founder(s) for your business can be as rewarding as the soul mate you may have found or may still be searching for.
It takes two to tango
Hewlett Packard, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Larsen and Toubro – look around and will be stunned by the number of legendary firms that have been built by two or more partners. There is a magic that comes alive when like-minded people come together to create an enterprise. Sure, there are businesses like Facebook or Apple that are one man armies, but if you speak to Marc Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, I am sure they would agree to some of these concepts:
The Soul of a Company rests with its founders. Sure, the heart lies with key executives and senior management but there is that critical heartbeat that only founders can emit. Pain is what founders feel whereas discomfort is what employees feel.
Ask any start up entrepreneur and she will understand. Hired folks who seem so dedicated and committed to your business suddenly become cold and unattached when it is appraisal time or even the weekend. It’s co-founders who have 2 hearts that beat simultaneously.
I often say that a start up is like a relay race. You run your course and then hand over the baton (Company) to the next runner (acquirer) who runs his lap. In reality, after the first lap, when the entrepreneur looks around for the acquirer, there isn’t anybody there. That’s when you need your partner to really take the lead so that you can slow down for a couple of laps at least.
I remember what Gaurav Deepak of Avendus Capital told me once. He said ‘Alok, when I get beaten down and am completely dispirited, I look forward to my partners to take over from me’. It’s similar to professional bicycle racing. The lead racer takes on the headwinds for a few laps and then slowly slips behind for the next biker to take the lead in rotation, always making sure that their team is leading.
I meet so many older generation and very successful entrepreneurs who run small and medium businesses. They have no co-founders and lead very sad lifestyles. They rarely take holidays, work almost all days in a year and seem so distanced from their families. They just haven’t understood the concept of co-owners.
WILL THEY MAKE GREAT CO-FOUNDERS? (Art Courtesy Games2win.com)
Ditch the Horoscopes:
In the arranged marriage circuit, the easy way to drop the discussion for either the boy or the girl being matched together is to inform the mediator that ‘the horoscopes didn’t match’.
In my humble start up experience, my belief is that the similarity of the mindsets (more than training and skills) is what actually makes the value creation happen.
If your co-founders have the same set of principles, goals and dos and don’ts, then everything falls into place. It’s not about ‘I am the marketing guy and my co-founder is the tech guy’. It’s about a couple that THINKS in the same manner, even before doing.
Try this test – take Co-founders of a great Company into separate rooms and ask them ethically challenging questions – you will notice that their answers will be identical.
There is a fine balance of role-playing in a relationship that works well. In the highly complex business world of today, you need clear demarcations of who is the aggressor- the person who fires and screams, the mild mannered founder - who should always be in front of the investors, the motivator - the leader and sure enough the partner who can call you in the middle of the night without any hesitation.
Study successful marriages carefully and you will see how beautifully role-playing is carved out. Couples quickly figure out their strengths and weaknesses and then distribute who does what as they start and raise their families.
In my businesses, I am the bad guy. The maniac, who loses his patience and just blows up like a fuse. But how do I get away with it? All thanks to my co-founders who balance my destructive behavior beautifully.
Sometimes it’s time to let go:
Sure, the best of relationships drift apart. Sometimes the departure can be ugly and sometimes just smooth and easy. The real challenge is to accept it and move on. I see folks clinging on to partnerships and co-founders who have stopped creating value and are actually destroying equity. It’s your role to step up and actually have the heart to tell your partner to move on.
Trust me, when you put on that Armor of Steel and let go, you will be so relieved by the burden that was crushing you and in a few months or years, your co-founder will thank you for the move.
Partners are what make life successful. Don’t ignore them.