It is possible to create a successful start-up on your own, many stakeholders including investors look for and recommend having a strong founding team with one or more co-founders whose skills complement yours.
But how do you ensure that you and your co-founder(s) work as a cohesive and productive team rather than a disjointed and combative non-group?
Elon Musk founded both Tesla and SpaceX, Mark Zuckerberg built the initial version of Facebook himself, and David Karp launched Tumblr — three hugely successful companies, each started by a single individual.
However, just because you can launch a start-up all by yourself does not mean that you should do so.
When you have multiple founders, esprit de corps i.e., shared feelings of loyalty and pride amongst a group binds them together in a way that seems to violate conservation laws.
Each one thinks, ‘I can’t let my friends down’. This is one of the most powerful forces in human nature, and it’s missing when there’s just one founder”.
The major goal of each of these strategies is to facilitate an on-going and cooperative partnership that is built on transparency, open communication, fair expectations that have been previously discussed and agreed to, and genuine collaboration and support.
It’s not uncommon for co-founders to clash over questions regarding who is responsible for what and when/where each person’s duties should/must be performed.
Such disagreements can be made even more complicated by the fact that each one of us tends to view our role(s) in very specific ways and prefer particular spaces and times in which to work, innovate, and be creative.
A founders’ agreement , a legal document that explicitly outlines a number of vital parameters amongst each of the founders of a company (from roles and responsibilities to equity ownership and vesting to intellectual property assignment) is essential to ensuring consistency of vision, understanding of duties, and mutual acceptance of expectations amongst you and your partners.
Another important strategy involves discussing and agreeing upon the amount of time that you and your various co-founders will spend working on your new business.
The question of whether this should be decided formally and explicitly (e.g., in the form of contract) or informally and indirectly (e.g., via a verbal discussion) is ultimately dependent on the nature of the relationship you have with your co-founder(s).
Some start-ups might benefit from a very strict scheduling of time whereas others might be more naturally inclined to allow each of the co-founders to have some leeway in when (and where) they work.
In general, though, you need to establish clear expectations with respect to how much each person can be expected to contribute and when. This is especially true when it comes to deadlines for specific tasks and projects.
What, exactly, do you intend to do with your start-up?
Is your goal to create a lifestyle business, one that you plan to run for as long as possible?
Alternatively, are you interested in creating a profitable company that you can build into something special for the next 5 years and then sell to the highest bidder?
Maybe you want something else?
What about your co-founders? What do they want to do with this company?
It’s imperative that you and your co-founders develop a very clear understanding of each person’s objectives and hopes for the near and not-so-near future as they relate to your start-up operations.
Do not assume anything: explicitly inquire into whether each of you wants the same thing. If this is so then great! If not then hammer out how, exactly, such differences can be managed and overcome.