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Decisions about how to get your business off the ground can be particularly challenging depending on how early into your time as an entrepreneur they arise. There’s the initial question of how to get started, and the questions only seem to get harder for there. Every choice feels foundational and the impact of those choices can be outsized given how new and fragile your fledgling company is. But there are tough questions that have to be asked at the outset, to determine the course of your startup and to avoid challenging situations down the line.
Among the first questions many founders have to ask themselves is whether they want to work with a co-founder when establishing their business. For some, it’s no choice at all; you and your partner(s) are a team, in lockstep since the inception of the idea, and there was no way that either party would make a solo venture of it. For others, it’s an open question, and an option worth considering; even if the idea was yours alone, there’s a lot that can be gained with another voice in the room.
Having a co-founder means another opinion and set of ideas that can serve to challenge your own. It’s easy to fall in love with your own ideas, particularly one so strong that it merits a business to make it a reality. But that love can blind you to flaws or shortcomings, and the same strength of conviction that led you to be a founder can prevent you from admitting mistakes or changing course when the need arises. Having someone else that you respect who will challenge you, someone on equal footing with whom you can exchange honest feedback, will make the company and the product ultimately better.
There is also something to the idea of finding complementary strengths to your own, of having someone whose expertise is in areas where your own skill falls short. For every experienced entrepreneur well-versed in the areas needed to run a business, there are relative newcomers who don’t know what they don’t know. Plenty of founders are what we would call “ideas people” or are the technical experts on the product they created, without much in the way of experience or knowledge running a business. Finding someone with expertise to help lift that burden from your shoulders can be an immediate boost to your company’s prospects.
There are arguments against working with a co-founder. While there’s a lot to be said for collaboration and cooperation, not all of us are wired the same way, and some people are not able to work together. Some founders have a singular vision and direction for what they want their company to be and don’t want anyone who might challenge that in any way, and that is their prerogative; it’s their company, after all. And partnerships aren’t always wise if they’re the combustible type that can prove more harm than good in the long run; your aim should probably be more Wright brothers than Gallagher brothers.
Whatever the nature of your co-founder relationship, you should enter into the partnership prepared for the possibility of its dissolution, and that means having co-founder agreements in writing and signed from the outset. It might feel a bit like signing a pre-nup before the wedding, a grim reminder of potential misery before what should be a happy event, but that is exactly the reason to sign one as soon before you start. Just as no couple imagines the very real possibility of divorce while they’re still very much in love, co-founders that are fast friends and effective co-workers can’t picture a day that they wouldn’t want to work together. But a co-founder split is a fact of life in business, and a split without an agreement that settles matters of ownership and equity can lead to a legal battle that sinks the company faster than any outside forces ever could. And I speak from experience.
Partnerships are nothing to be taken lightly, and anyone thinking of working with a co-founder should give due thought to all the factors that weigh into the decision, as well as the measure of the person you’re considering working with. With the right co-founder, your company will have twice the energy and knowledge to help it succeed, but the wrong pairing can potentially sink a startup before it has a chance to make it to market. #onwards.
June 6, 2019 at 09:30AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs