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When and why you should (or shouldn’t) find a co-founder

Appster Founders, Mark & Josiah

Appster Founders, Mark & Josiah

There is an old African proverb that goes, “If you want to go quickly, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” In the world of startups, going together often means going both faster and further.

According to Startup Genome, a project that analysed a dataset of 100,000 startups over a few years found that solo founders take 3.6 times longer to reach the scale stage, compared to a founding team of two.

In addition, the data analysis of startup unicorns (billion-dollar companies founded since 2000) reveals that over 90 percent of startups that made it to a billion dollar valuation started with a team of two or more.

Starting a business as a team of two or more has proven to provide the best probability to succeed. However, the higher the risk, the greater the reward – having another person on board can also significantly increase your chances of failure, as co-founder issues are one of the most common reasons why startups fail.

This is why we knew it was important for us to invest our time in making sure we were a good professional fit before we started Appster, which is exactly what you need to do if you’re considering taking on a business partner. Unless you can tick all of the following boxes, you’re better off starting solo.

Master the art of “true grit”

This is the single thing that sets hugely successful people apart from the rest. To build a successful startup, you need to have thick skin – it’s not for the fainthearted. You will have to pursue your business goals relentlessly, even during the harshest conditions.

That requires a mindset that not many are gifted with – “true grit”. In psychology, grit means “the disposition to pursue very long-term goals with passion and perseverance, stamina and ability to win things over the long-term and work very hard at it”.

According to research done by a Stanford Department of Psychology professor, Carol Dweck, there are people with two kinds of mindsets: fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

People with a fixed mindset believe everything is determined and can’t be changed. Those with a growth mindset believe that abilities are developed – they see setbacks and criticism as a sign to improve and challenges as learning opportunities.

Research shows that people with fixed mindsets don’t get very far in life. When building a business from the ground up, there will be plenty of challenges, rejections and failures, which is why your co-founder needs to have that growth mindset. You shouldn’t be trying to support both your business and your co-founder’s emotions.

Invest time and energy into your partnership

Starting a business with a co-founder is a lot like getting into a marriage. You’re more likely to take your relationship further and have a great marriage if you have already spent some time living together and getting to know each other. Working together before taking that huge step is a test run for your “marriage”.

Looking at the analysis of startup unicorns mentioned earlier, of all the companies started by a team of two or more, 90% of the co-founding teams had some common history. More specifically, 60% worked together; 46% went to school together and even the remaining 10% without the prior history had some common thread such as being introduced by a common friend or an investor.

But with that in mind, being friends prior to starting a company doesn’t always guarantee you’ll make a good professional match – a great friend may not necessarily be a great co-worker.

Be the yin to their yang

The common belief among Silicon Valley startups is that the best companies are started by a team composed of a hustler, a hacker and a designer. The best co-founding teams have founders who complement each other and operate independently under the same vision.

If you and your co-founder have the same skills and are unlikely to specialise, you may be better off going solo because co-managing same areas will eventually yield some disputes or differing opinions that will slow you down.

Think of it this way, if you both bring the same skill-sets to the table, then what exactly are you learning from each other? You need to challenge each other to think outside your respective boxes.

Grow as a unit – share the same vision and similar values

Most co-founder issues stem from founders having different ideas about how to run the startup or the direction their company should take once they get past the initial stages. Putting your vision on a piece of paper is one thing; living by it day by day is another.

It is common for successful startups to pivot from their original vision, which is why you need to work with someone who sees the bigger picture the way you do. For example, unless you’re both excited about solving the same customer problems, you may struggle to move on if you don’t share the same vision.

In addition, you and your co-founder will combine your values to form the foundation in which your company will be built upon – its culture, its mission and its core beliefs.

Know when to let go

In the end, remember that not all relationships last. It is important to look at your partnership objectively and realise when it’s not working. A toxic partnership will slowly but surely poison your business.

About the author:

The youngest debutants on this year’s BRW Young Rich list, Josiah Humphrey and Mark McDonald are the co-founders and co-CEOs of Appster, a leading mobile app and product development company in Australia, with offices in Melbourne and San Francisco. The two have been serial entrepreneurs owning multiple businesses from a young age. They started Appster at the age of 19 and over the past 4 years, have aggressively grown to nearly 300 staff across three continents. Founded in 2011, Appster is more than an app company – it is an ideas and execution company which endeavours to solve real issues for startups and small businesses.