Single-founder start-ups are generally a recipe for disaster, since there are just too many aspects of a new disruptive business which can’t be handled by an individual. So it goes without saying that if you want to set up a successful start-up, you need a founding team. A set of people who have complementary skill sets; are equally ambitious; understand what it takes to work as a team; are transparent and most importantly – trust each other.
After having found that set of great partners, you must also be aware that close to 65% of start-ups dissolve due to internal conflicts amongst the co-founders. To avoid that situation, there are some golden rules to be followed:
Acknowledge and recognize each other’s skill sets: As I mentioned earlier, co-founders of start-ups should have complementary skill sets. One founder could be very good at coding and product development while the other is a go-to-market guy, and a third one has cracked the social networking aspects. It is paramount that each member of the founding team fully recognizes and appreciates the skill sets others bring on table, not just on the surface but from the bottom of his/her heart. This mutual respect for each other is the core for keeping the team together.
Everyone can voice an opinion, but the expert makes the final call. There are hundreds of decisions to be taken during the start-up journey, since you are charting out to do something which no one has done before. Every co-founder will have an opinion, a view and how we should go about doing a certain thing. A lot of it will emanate as a gut-instinct, which can be diametrically opposite for two individuals. Who then makes the final call? It should always be the subject matter expert, as he/she has to own the problem if things don’t work out as anticipated. The problem mounts when a more influential founder tends to drive towards a solution he/she feels is fit, and things don’t work out. Finger-pointing starts and all hell breaks loose.
Be transparent, absolutely transparent. Every co-founder has a right to all information. As someone who has invested money and time in building the venture, all information must be available to every co-founder. Lot of time people share info on a need-to-know basis in the co-founding team, and this builds mistrust over a period of time. Let it flow uninterrupted, but have a mutual understanding that who is expected to act, based on the responsibility taken up by each.
Live with each others productivity and know-how levels. You have a co-founder for a venture, and not the necessarily world’s top most subject matter expert. So, have reasonable expectations from each other. Productivity levels and subject matter expertise will always vary amongst the co-founding team but that doesn’t make one better than the other. The venture requires all co-founders to put in their best and that is what is going to make it successful. It doesn’t matter if someone’s best is better that other person’s best.
When in doubt, discuss. Never take a major decision in isolation, even if it is your area of expertise. Discuss with co-founders and hear each one out. For disruptive ideas, the new perspective people bring on the table are more important than your prior experience and gut-feeling. So, let every founder feel that they contributed in their own manner for every decision. Always remember – no matter what, you will swim or sink together.
Give/take feedback, so each one of you can perform better. Feedback is a must, but sarcasm has no place. Give candid feedback to each other on what can be done to get more traction on the venture; what all should be experimented with; where you can spot a loophole etc etc. However, never ever become condescending or question the individual’s capability and inability to get something going in the first go. If you are open to each other’s point of view and feedback, trust me, you will find the magic sauce sooner or later.
Learn to respect and live with each other’s quirks. No one is born perfect. Everyone has round and sharp edges in their personality, and their own unique working styles. Everyone has different priorities. They could be very different from yours, and sometimes, make no sense to you. Instead of attempting to change that person, specially the co-founder of your venture, learn to accept them as they are and build on their strengths. The instant you try to force your mindset on other co-founders, you are back to running the venture as an individual because the variety is gone.
Become friendly with each other. Get to know each other beyond work, work, and more work. Get to know each other’s families. Understand each other’s perspectives on what matters to them, likes/dislikes, challenges they have faced or are facing. Become each others trusted friends as you are going to be sailing together for a long long time. It’s not just about money…it is also about having a good time together.
Celebrate every success, small or big. Pat each other on the back for every milestone you have achieved, for every small step towards fulfilling a dream. Let everyone be motivated and feel good about steady progress. This is very essential, especially for start-ups, for every step forward, you face 10 challenges which can take you backward. So, it is possible that the challenges could start to weigh upon you and demoralize you.
In conclusion – you are a team – come hell or high water !! Or even when the going is good