You’ve got an amazing idea? That’s great, congratulations! But do you also have the team it takes to make this idea successful? Are there specific indicators you should look for in potential co-founders? What about your first employees? And what happens to your own sanity when the company grows? That – and much more – was discussed at Stammtisch #56. Let’s just say, there is no right or wrong here – judging from the heated discussion between Rhina Portillo, Cozyo, Jakob Reiter, TheVentury and Matthias Blazanovic, bikemap.
First, there is an idea. A little, tiny idea. You talk about it, dream about what would happen if it became reality. It’s all fun and games until reality strikes in the form of questions asked considering the movement and structure. “Are we really doing this? NOW?” “What are the next steps?” “Who is taking care of X, Y and Z?”
The Marriage metaphor
Co-founding is comparable to marriage. You will spend an awful lot of time with your co-founder(s). You will very soon share financial issues. You will fly high together and, but also crash together – and hopefully don’t burn – together. As we can read about past founding stories and also have heard at our last Stammtisch. There will be fights to be fought and there will be struggles ahead. But you will also motivate and pick each other up when it is needed. Our lesson learned this time: You should really take time to pick your co-founder wisely, because, as our one and only Daniel Cronin put it: “You don’t marry the first person you meet either, right?”
Friends or Strangers?
Founding with friends or strangers? Sure, founding with friends is great when everything’s rainbows and butterflies, but can you handle disagreements and fights as well without taking it personal? And do you complement each other? Are there skills needed in the founding team, that none of you have? Here you should choose wisely and rather focus on hard and soft skills incorporated by the person needed than simply personal emotional connection. However, you don’t always have the luxury of being picky (In need of a CTO, anybody?). But you can build a great founding team without even having met in person before incorporating the company – as Jakob Reiter remembers from founding his first company. Skype was a sufficient way to meet and the team has moved on to founding several companies together by now. What it comes down to is one question: Can we go through tough times together as well as the happy ones? Or, as Rhina puts it “Is this a person I would share financial problems with?”
Friends or no friends, make sure you have contracts in order from the beginning.
“You want to draw the papers up in case worst comes to worst, but then you never want to look at them again – hopefully” as Jakob says. Because of course, everything is exciting and everybody is happy doing this together in the beginning, but sometimes, things happen. And you want to be on the safe side, in case they do. You might not save the friendship but the business.
Hacker, Hipster, Hustler
Diversity in the founding team is one of the most important things, our panelists agree. “More often than not, you are surrounded by people who all have the same background, but what you actually need are other – complementary – skill sets in your team. And these are hard to find, sometimes”, as Matthias knows from experience. If you want to follow the “Holy Trinity of Founding Teams”, make sure your team consists of a hacker (again, CTO, anybody?), a hipster – somebody who loves the product, takes care of the UX and knows what the user needs – and a hustler – the manager in the team who takes care of the finances and all that great stuff. Easy, right?
So, what makes a great co-founder?
Great question! Not so easy to answer! After all, judging from the completely different answers we got to this question. Among others, honesty is an important characteristic. Picking somebody with a complimentary skill set to yours is something you should always keep in mind, too. And going with the financial theme: co-found with somebody who thinks about money the same way you do.
But with all these rational decisions, don’t forget about a little craziness either: pick somebody who is just as passionate about making the business happen as you are and join in the craziness together.