Let’s Talk… Founding Teams

partner

Creating a business completely alone can be incredibly hard and can make reaching your goals even harder. With the right co-founder you can utilise different skill sets and work together towards a common goal. The key is having the right person as your co-founder and making sure your differences compliment each other rather than bring you apart.

In this week’s Let’s Talk experts discuss what qualities entrepreneurs should look for in a potential co-founder?


Dr Carla Harris, CEO, Longevity: 

Founders should look for someone who brings skills and qualities that they don’t already possess themselves. You don’t need two of you in the business and there’s lots to do – it’s important to diversify the skills and attributes within the business! I also think it’s important to find someone that you trust and can be vulnerable with. Startups are a tough gig where you constantly have to have your game face on, so to have someone that you can be open and transparent with is essential.

Adam Joy, CEO, ALNA:

Transparency and honesty is essential in a co-founder, and without those non-negotiables you cannot build a successful business with longevity. You need a partner who is willing to have honest conversations with you, and you must be confident that you can trust them.

In addition, don’t look for someone who is the same as you. Instead, look for someone who complements your personal strengths and technical skills. For example, if you are great at strategy, they may be great at translating strategy into operational execution. Your business intelligence might be matched by their emotional intelligence.

We’ve seen businesses achieve extraordinary success by working with the right co-founder.

Emma Lo Russo, CEO, Digivizer:

First you need to have great complementary skills. My co-founder at Digivizer was Clinton Larson, whose expertise and experience in customer analytics complemented mine in tech leadership and marketing perfectly. We equally saw the opportunity in digital and were prepared to take a risk in starting Digivizer.   I think you need to know your co-founder deeply and have proven trust and transparency as the road can be challenging and you need to keep ensuring really open dialogue and a method for decision making to ensure you remain on the same page. The other key thing for sustainability is having a heads of agreement that separates roles, responsibilities, and agreement around remuneration. Things change and there always needs to be reward and recognition around who is actually doing the high value work ie earning as a key person in your company  which is different from owning equity. The two should not be confused.

David Collien, Co-Founder & CTO, OpenLearning:

Rather than focussing on qualities in an individual, I’d look for qualities that give you confidence in the working relationship, i.e. that you’re a good fit together. It may be useful to reflect on the fact that you are half of the relationship, and to understand how you operate and what you honestly bring to that side of the equation. From there I’d look for shared core values, shared vision and passion, and productive communication dynamics as there will be challenges and changes to work through constructively. I also think it is important to work with someone you can trust and will be supportive when things go wrong. In addition, a diversity of experiences, perspectives, and skills are always going to be an advantage in any team. Starting out with a co-founder who has a complementary set of strengths, a different set of lived experiences, and is someone who can challenge you, are all qualities which would give me confidence that the business will start on good footing.

Alan Manly, CEO, Group Colleges:

Entrepreneurs are by nature deal makers. When an opportunity is bigger than their individual skills or resources they often apply their deal making skills to recruiting a team that meets the startups needs.  This can be a testing time for many entrepreneurs. The burning desire to get the start-up commenced can blur good recruitment concepts. The recruiting entrepreneur should write down the qualities of the person/s required to build the team. Then remember business is business. This is not a social club that is a collection of nice likeminded individuals. The top questions need to be whether the potential recruit’s personal culture is compatible as opposed to similar to the overall team. The unspoken characteristic is the ability to function at a high level whilst in the manic pace of a start-up. The required skills come next as they are usually more readily available. This is a trap many startups fall into. They confuse like minds with required skills. If you have the choice of a great person or a solid no nonsense professional who you would never socialise with. Pick the latter.

Darren Sommers, Principal Solicitor, Melbourne’s KHQ Lawyer:

Choosing the right partner is one of the most critical decisions a start-up founder can make. It can make or break their success.  But more importantly, a business divorce is more often far messier than a marital one, and in many cases, one can cause the other.

Be very mindful when selecting a founding partner:

  • Do they have external financial pressures (mortgage, children’s education etc) that are reliant on a steady income and would preclude a long-term commitment?
  • Are they prepared to fully commit (that is – quit their 9-5-day job to focus on the new business)?
  • Is their spouse or family fully supportive?
  • Are they a natural risk taker?
  • Do they have a resilient nature that ensures the they will pick themselves up from any failure and keep going?
  • Are they adaptable?
  • Do they know their own limitations?

If you are even leaning toward “no” on any of these points then you should seriously reconsider. A new business requires full time commitment with the right person, and anything less will hamper the chances of success.

I’ve sat in hundreds of meetings with new business hopefuls, and in most cases I can tell when one, if not two, of the founders won’t be there in 12 months.

You need to find an alignment of expectation, financial contributions and most importantly, effort. Without the alignment, there is a significant risk of your business partnership breaking down during your crucial growth phase.

Ratmir Timashev, Co-Founder, Veeam Software:

It’s not enough to have the best product. To win in this very competitive market one needs to have the best product, the best sales and the best marketing. And, most importantly the best people behind it all to help bring the vision to life. My partner and co-founder of Veeam Andrei Baronov is a brilliant scientist, brilliant technologist and brilliant business person. He knows how to solve problems in the most elegant way.

It’s about finding that person to complement you. We both came from science backgrounds, however when starting on our business venture, we realized our skills needed to be multi-faceted and span across a number of different sectors, so I learned sales and marketing and he continued being the world class software developer that he is.

Fast forward to 2006, when we started Veeam, I took more of a front seat, acting as the face and driver for business development, while Andrei remained focused on further developing the company’s technology offerings, behind the scenes. Again, it comes down to understanding the clear and distinct role each partner within the company will play. 12 years on, Veeam is on its way to becoming a $1 billion company by 2018, not only because we were in the right place, at the right time, with the right product offering, but because Andrei and I were clear on our roles from the get go – none more important than the other.