The Entrepreneur Life

Tag: cofounder

What your team wants may impact your happiness

Team Work

One of my pet peeves is how common the perception of a “hero entrepreneur” is. Steve Jobs or Elon Musk are amongst the two most common responses my students give when asked to name an entrepreneur. While these two men have accomplished much and altered the lives of millions, this continued veneration by much of the media (whether newspapers, television or the ocean of writing that’s out there) swamps the truth that entrepreneurship (like innovation) is a TEAM sport.

entrepreneurship (like innovation) is a TEAM sport. Click To Tweet

As anyone who’s stayed on at the end of a movie (I’m one of those chaps) to watch the entire credits roll knows, movie making involves hundreds of people at the very least. Startups and entrepreneurship is no different, a cast of thousands usually are toiling to make an enterprise successful. Of particular note amongst these are the co-founders and early employees many of whom not only buy into the vision but take what’s fuzzy and shape it into reality. In most cases, including in my own, they keep the founders honest and focused, not getting distracted by the next shiny thing all too often unacknowledged and at times at significant emotional and professional cost.

Once an individual has been exalted to hero status by the general public, there is an implicit level of responsibility we place on them, whether they want it or not. We end up projecting our loftiest ideals of character onto these people and forget that whether its Mahatma Gandhi or MLK, they were always just human beings.

Efe Otokiti

The very attributes that can make a founder successful—perseverance in the face of great odds, repeated missteps or even failures (that don’t quite kill the startup) can make them pig-headed (boy, do I know!) So the hero myth only makes it worse as they drink their Kool-Aid and believe in their own infallibility. Surprisingly many founders who ultimately exit their business find out it’s hard to be ‘happy’ despite their ‘success’ financially or otherwise, if their co-founders or employees don’t get what they want. And it is easy to imagine that this is unlikely to be the case when those employees or co-founders get a good or even great payoff.

As I learned in my own startups, while making money (or the thought of it) makes people happy (for a few minutes to months), everything from the trivial (“What do you mean I’ve got to pay taxes?”) to important (“What is my role going to be?”) all the way to the sublime (“What’s going to happen to our company culture?”) can muddy things at best or make them unhappy at worst. And of course as humans we are all to likely to succumb being happy with the $250K we made till we find out the next chappie made $255K! So what should founders do?

Here are three simple steps to begin with

  • Recognize that entrepreneurship is a team sport and acknowledge your team mates publicly and repeatedly
  • Ask and listen what their expectations beyond money are and be prepared that they might not be the same as yours
  • Factor their needs and expectations by discussing and if needed educating them in how you run and exit your business

This is one of the topics that’s covered in my book, The Art of A Happy Exit – How Successful Entrepreneurs Sell Their Businesses.

3 Things To Look for in a Co-founder

Co-founders

Photo: MyTudut

Almost soon as I made the case why you need a co-founder, a friend responded with the question “What should I look for in a co-founder?” While we’ve asked this question of both entrepreneurs and angels, here’s my take on what you need to look for in a co-founder.

Vision Match Building a business is often a long hard journey, and you want to make your that your partner or co-founder shares your vision. As setbacks occur (which they will) or when money seems hard to come by, customers leave, milestones slip or worse yet when things work, and especially when you seem to be making more money than you can keep track of, having a shared vision will ensure that things stay on even keel. If there isn’t a shared vision of why you are running your business and what it is you seek, as a company and as individuals, it will be difficult to survive every fork in the road that you’ll encounter. And you will encounter far more than you can imagine. So make sure your visions match.

Complementary Skills All too often we end up hiring or connecting with people who are just like us. While that’s nice, its far more important to find someone who has complementary skills – someone who’s comfortable talking to prospective customers or selling, if you are building a product. Someone who can manage projects or money, if you are out there focused on selling; someone who’s comfortable writing or documenting while you are out there hustling or building. Usually startups require everyone to be as hands on as they can, especially co-founders and it can really help, if they can do things you can’t or do them better than you can. So make sure that they not only have shared vision but can do things you can’t!

Honest & Open Communication The nature of startups is such that you will screw up. Heck so will your co-founder and more than once. So it’s important that your co-founder and you share a healthy interpersonal relationship – one not just based on mutual trust and but on honest and open communication. If you walk around each other, either too polite to raise uncomfortable topics or avoid conflict or confrontation at all costs, lots of important issues will not get sorted out in a timely manner and that’s something no startup can afford. So it’s really important that you feel comfortable around you co-founder that either one of you can raise issues that bother you and can be talked through to resolution. Only with honest and open communication can you keep one another honest, not to mention your business out of trouble.

Here is Sanjay Anandram’s take on what to look for in a co-founder

Meanwhile to make sure that  your prospective co-founder & you are aligned on

  • a shared vision of the company and its raison d’etre
  • what complementary value each of you bring to the table
  • talking openly and resolving matters through timely and effective communication

So go out there and find that co-founder. Good luck!

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