Saturday, January 19, 2013

A founding team is like an unmarried couple wanting to have a child

There are no social / official obligations towards each other, yet the couple needs to work together towards a higher purpose of giving birth to and raising a child.

A founding team is similar - each individual has no obligation to stay in the relationship, yet they decide to work together towards building an idea into a business. Each individual should have a higher level of commitment to make it work. The chemistry between them should be perfect.

Which means:

1. Don't take any risks: Look for a co-founder as if you would look for a mother / father of your child. As a rule, co-founder should be your friend over a long period of time. Beware, knowing him at a personal level is not enough - ideally, you should have worked with him closely on a professional assignment. This is critical as you will be amazed how people behave differently in professional settings.
Another tip: Your close family / spouse should know and like the person - it will help you a lot!
Hiring a co-founder is a waste of your time. Employees are hired, not founders.

2. Matching passion and ambition: Make sure that the co-founder matches or exceeds you in the level of passion and ambition for the start-up. You will have the same vision for the company and put in similar number of hours to achieve it.

3. Complement at personality level, not skill level: Introvert + Extrovert, detail oriented + intuition oriented, high energy + level headed, impatient + patient -- look for how different he is from you. Complementary personality traits will help you nullify the waves of uncertainty and anxiety you will face.

Complementary skill sets are a nice-to-have, but not essential. A skilled programmer + a great salesman --> is it an ideal combination? Yes - only if both do not lose patience after 3 months of no revenues. That being said - one must have personality trait is: willingness to learn new skills.

4. Communication is the most important thing: Which is the single most important trait you should look for? My bullet to the head answer is: can you communicate with him freely? Does he listen to and respect your views? Like any relationship, communication is the fuel to keep the engines running.

5. Longevity is critical: Raising a child is much more difficult than creating. Is the person committed to the company for a long haul? Can he face tough times for a long period of time? Will he stay around after 5 years if the company survives?
Also look beyond personality, at realities of life - does he have debt? Is he financially comfortable? Does he have the required family support?

There was a reason I referred founding team as a couple - 2 is the ideal founding team size. 3 is a stretch and beyond is chaos. What about 1? Start-up is a big lonely world - you need somebody to talk to. If you insist on being alone, invite your spouse to be the co-founder (unofficially though!).

So, get the genes right!

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