Welcome to a series of posts on the subject of co-founders: why to have one, finding one, dangers or risks associated with co-founders, and then, finally, how to work with them. I am a firm believer in the value of having a co-founder, both from personal experience as well as talking to other entrepreneurs, many of whom had co-founders when growing their businesses, and some that did not. Even those who did not have co-founders later realized the value of having a partner with whom you could share the stress and success of running a business.
There are very few examples of super successful companies that have a single founder. Think about it… Microsoft (Bill Gates) comes to mind immediately, but then, not too many more. Yes, if you combed the annals of entrepreneur history, you’d likely come up with a few. Even Venture Hacks calls Mark Zuckerberg Facebook’s only founder (under “The power of two” section, second paragraph), even though he arguably had quite a bit of help (remember that nasty lawsuit by three other Harvard students?).
Having a co-founder may be a crucial factor in the success of a company. But beyond that, as an entrepreneur, are there clear benefits to having a co-founder by your side? Yes. Here are a few:
A co-founder can:
- Fill in the skills gap
You may have a well-rounded education and ample professional experience, but one person can’t be an expert in everything. Everyone is missing important expertise, experience, and most importantly, management skills. What’s more, as entrepreneurs, although we’re willing to do any job to make our company successful, we do have interests and enjoy certain activities more than others. A co-founder can help complement your skills and fill in the skills gaps in a way you’ll never be able to do on your own. Even if you think you can cover everything, why should you if you have a co-founder to lean on who can do it better than you? If they enjoy fulfilling a certain role more than you do, let them take responsibility over it. Something perhaps even more important than the skills gap is the difference in management style. If you’ve started and grown your own business before, you know that as time progresses, different management styles work better than others. Having a co-founder with a different skill set will likely mean he or she will also have a different management style. It’s just one more weapon on your arsenal.
- Provide you with a real companion on the start-up journey
Starting a business means a bumpy road may appear on the horizon at any point, and it can be a lot easier to handle those bumps (and have more fun) with a co-founder. Advisors, boardmembers and mentors are great, but there is nothing like being able to talk to someone that is going through the exact same process as you are, facing the same risk, the same problems, and the same potential reward: a successful venture.
- Serve as a backstop when you have an “off” day
We all have those days when we are just not feeling it (and “it” can be any number of things with a start-up), and having a co-founder provides a backstop for those days, even for the simplest of matters. Need to go out of the office for a day or two after spending a week-long stretch glued to your computer, but need checks signed? Your co-founder can sign them. Have a big meeting scheduled when another prospect comes your way? If you have a co-founder, your company can be “present” at both meetings. Having someone you can trust, and is just as invested as you, makes what could be a huge worry just a little bit smaller.
- Balance the extremes
Entrepreneurs just want to get things done, and they’re always moving forward, but they can also face obstacles. It helps to have someone to balance the extremes we all face along the way.
- Point out blind spots
We all have blind spots in how we manage, implement projects, and go through life. Having a co-founder gives you a peer that can point out these blind spots so you can improve. From personnel issues to how to launch a product, a co-founder will open your eyes to things you might not see.
I’m not trying to say having a co-founder is perfect all of the time. There are always bumps in the road, but the benefits outweigh the very, very small drawbacks. Up next: the risks of having a co-founder.