It is always exciting to start an entrepreneurial adventure. The feelings of taking the first steps towards realizing a dream and building something from scratch are hard to describe yet so familiar for fellow founders. If you commit to the road ahead as a solo founder, we celebrate you and want to acknowledge the courage and strength it takes to go out by yourself. You absolutely do not need to wait to find the perfect co-founder to start your adventure. At the same time, as we have covered in a previous article, building a tribe of people around you can develop into such a powerful support system that they might even feel like co-founders. However, if you are looking to build your company together with one or several co-founders, keep reading. This is for you.
It is important to keep in mind that co-founder relationships are as complex as any other type of human relationship. All the dimensions and intricacies of every relationship will show up in your co-founder dynamics as well, and since the goal of the co-founder partnership is to build your dream company, it is crucial to stay aligned, honest, and focused from the very start. There are many ways to kick off a strong co-founder partnership. Below, you can explore three areas we have found valuable to address head-on from our 20 years of working with founders and startups.
The One Conversation That Can Make or Break Your Business
Imagine that you have an industry-changing vision, and you are looking to start a company to make that vision come true. Although you are not very financially secure, you are dreaming big and willing to go all-in to make an impact in the world through your company. You have decided to embark on this journey with two partners. One of them is an adventurer: she is financially stable, and is primarily in for the experience and the novelty. She is a trusted friend of yours who shares your values and your vision, but she is working with a different timeline since she is not risking much. Your other co-founder is also after the vision, but he is a single father and has a sense of urgency to make things happen: he is a doer, and his primary concern is moving forward with the company and growing it quickly to secure profitability and build stability for his family.
As exciting as it can be when you are first starting out an entrepreneurial pursuit with people you trust, it is crucial to assess the issue of personal alignment. To build a strong, long-term partnership, it’s essential to build relationships that allow for deep, vulnerable, and personal conversations. Some of the subjects to consider can be: what your personal dreams are, what goals you are after, what your hopes are for the future, what kind of timelines you are working with, what your financial situation is, and what level of risk you are willing to take. These are some of the essential dimensions of an individual’s life plan that come into play when building a company, and that have enough influence to make it or break it.
When co-founders are aligned in these dimensions, it is easier to also align on all future business challenges (including goals, priorities, crossroads, etc.), and the partnership is more likely to stay strong during the entrepreneurial rollercoaster with its amazing highs and steep slopes. However, a disconnect in any of these areas can create fractures in the relationship and jeopardize the future of the venture. So the first step is always to assess where each of you is to find common ground to build upon.
How Your Values Create the Foundation of Your Culture
When you are about to start a business with someone you are close to, it might be easy to overlook culture and values, automatically assuming that you are aligned, and there is not much for you to discuss. In the grand scheme of things, this can be true: you might share a general vision and a common system of core values and beliefs that drives you forward. However, it is essential to notice, especially if one of you has a corporate background, that there might be some areas where you are not exactly on the same page, and it is beneficial to assess these differences head-on before you kick off the company.
Here are some impactful and empowering questions to start the conversation around:
What are the philosophies we will champion in the company, and what are those we would rather steer clear of? This is directly connected to the core values of the company, but it also has to do with the question, “what do these values look like as actions on a day-to-day basis?” It is important to get specific and assess in detail: how do we collaborate in this company? How do we create schedules? How do we measure progress? How do we approach mistakes? How do we celebrate accomplishments?
What are some processes we are —or we are not— going to adopt in this company? Here, we are talking about everything from teamwork and client relationships to how to structure and utilize meetings, check-ins, and communication around projects in general, leadership styles, how to grow the team, and more. The key here —like with all of cultural design— is to go step-by-step and not take anything as a given.
And, of course, there are also major questions to be addressed as the partners approach their quest, like how to fund the venture, what market they are looking to pursue, whether they are staying local or going international, who their dream persona is, and so much more.
Lifestyle Business, Unicorn, or Anything Else In-between?
One subject often overlooked by co-founders when starting a new company is what type of company they are looking to create. This is an essential question to ask. The answer can be anything including a lifestyle business, a company built to last, a fast-growing scaleup, or a unicorn, to name a few. The key here is that there is no right or wrong – it is all the founders’ choice. But it is a choice that needs to be agreed upon and explicitly put forward. It is important for co-founders to talk about their entrepreneurial aspirations early in the journey to be on the same page and thrive as a team. This is also a question that connects to the first conversation we addressed: how do your business goals fit in with your personal life plan? A misalignment in this realm could be critical for the future success of the company and the prospects of the co-founder relationship.
Entrepreneurship is Limitless
There are no boundaries to where entrepreneurship can take you or what change it can drive in the world. But, to truly make the most of the opportunities it brings, co-founders need to be aligned on the basic foundation of their work as a team and the company they are looking to create. A good first step to laying down a solid foundation is sitting with your fellow co-founders and having honest conversations about different aspects like your dreams, goals, work styles, leadership philosophies, and more. The topics listed in this article can serve as a starter for this process. However, clear and direct communication is not always the easiest to achieve. If you need guidance in your co-founder relationship, we are here to help.
Founder/Executive Coaching At a Glance
Have you ever wished to have Yoda by your side, helping you choose between the million paths ahead?
Have you ever wanted a co-founder to magically appear to help you make the hard decisions that keep you up all night? Have you ever wanted someone to do for you what you do for everyone else? Someone who sees your potential and has your back?
These are just some of the ways Therése has been described by her founder and C-level clients on the journey they have taken together, as she made sure they received the support they needed.
Therése has been empowering High Achieving individuals for over 19 years through her transformative change programs where everything is done with a purpose.
Each journey starts with a first step based on your dreams and goals.
So the question is, whom do you wish was on your side, as you make your way through your own hero’s journey?