The next step is to find some soul mates to go on your adventure – think Bilbo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring. However, people love the notion of the sole innovator: Thomas Edison (lightbulb), Steve Jobs (Macintosh), Henry Ford (Model T), Anita Roddick (The Body Shop), and Richard Branson (Virgin Airlines). It’s wrong.
Successful companies are usually started and become successful, with the contributions of at least two soul mates. After the fact, people may recognize one founder as the innovator, but it takes a team to make a new venture work.
“The first follower is what transforms the lone nut into a leader.”
To illustrate this concept, Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, showed a video at the TED2010 conference that starts with one person dancing alone in a field. A second person joins in, then a third, and the crowd “tips” into a full-scale dance festival.
According to Sivers, the first follower plays an essential role because he brings credibility to the leader. Subsequent followers emulate the first follower, not only the leader. In his words, “The first follower is what transforms the lone nut into a leader,” and in a startup, that first follower is usually a cofounder.
Cofounding soul mates need to have both similarities and differences. The desirable critical similarities are:
VISION. Although this has become an overused word uttered by wannabe visionaries, it means that founders share a similar intuition for how the startup and market will evolve in the context of soul mates. For example, if one founder believes that computers will remain a business tool for large organizations, and the other thinks the future is small, cheap, and easy-to-use personal computers for everyone, they aren’t a good match.
SIZE. Not everyone wants to build an empire. Not everyone wants a lifestyle business. There aren’t right and wrong expectations; there are only expectations that match or don’t match. This doesn’t mean founders can know what they want initially, but it’s nice if they’re At least on the same page.
COMMITMENT. Founders should share the same level of commitment. Does the startup, family, or a balanced life come first? It’s hard to make a startup work when the founders have different priorities. One founder wanting to work for two years and flipping the startup for a quick sale, and the other wanting to create a company that will endure for decades will develop problems. Ideally, founders agree that they’re in it for at least ten years.
The differences that are desirable include:
EXPERTISE. At a minimum, a startup needs at least one person to make the product (Steve Wozniak) and sell it (Steve Jobs). Founders need to complement each other to build a great organization.
ORIENTATION. Some people like to sweat the details. Others want to ignore the facts and worry about the significant issues. A successful startup needs both types of founders to succeed.
PERSPECTIVE. The more views, the merrier. These can include young versus old, rich versus poor, male versus female, urban versus country, engineering versus sales, techie versus touchy, Muslim versus Christian, and straight versus gay.
Finally, a few words of wisdom about cofounders:
DO NOT RUSH. Founders may have to work together for decades, so add them lake you would Pick a spouse- -assuming you’re not a serial divorcee. It’s better to have too few founders than too many. Breaking up with founders, like spouses, is hard to do.
DO NOT ADD FOUNDERS TO ENHANCE FUNDABILITY. The reason to bring in additional founders—and any other employee but especially founders—is to make your startup stronger and more likely to succeed. Ask yourself, “Would you hire this guy if you didn’t need funding?” If your answer is no, you’d be insane to hire him.
ASSUME THE BEST, BUT PLAN FOR THE WORST. Founding teams blow up all the time. Your startup may be the exception, but just in case, make everyone (including yourself) vest his stock over time to prevent people who leave in less than four years from owning large amounts of equity.
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