Building the best founding team

The founding team sets the mould for future employees of a company. The oft repeated cliche that A players hire A players while B players hire C players is very true. So getting those first few team members right is key. And that includes the choice of co-founder.

The challenge for entrepreneurs not lucky enough to know someone who can be their co-founder is that the majority of investors will only invest in co-founding teams. This forces entrepreneurs to find a co-founder before they can do anything else when their time would be better spent working out if they have a valid idea. Sometimes that can mean compromising on quality.

Investors, of course, have their reasons for only investing in teams, and Satya Patel of newish US VC Homebrew just set them out in a blog post:

  • Idea validation: If you can’t convince someone else to join you in pursuing your idea, maybe it’s not worth pursuing.
  • Pressure to perform: Having a co-founder makes you responsible to someone else, which in turn puts pressure on you to deliver results, probably faster than you might otherwise.
  • Emotional outlet: In startups the highs can be high but the lows can be low.  And the inevitable trough of sorrow can be a lonely place.  Surviving the anxiety and emotion of a startup can be much easier when the burden is shared.  It’s great to see much more dialogue about the emotional challenges of being a founder.  One way of fighting depression and other forms of emotional distress is by having a co-founder with whom you can be open and honest about your fears, struggles and insecurities.
  • Skill diversity: No one person, no matter how brilliant, has all of the skills needed to make a startup successful. Having co-founders with complementary skills can make it much easier for each person to say no to everything but the tasks most critical to achieving success.
  • Hiring strength: Multiple people on the team means a broader network from which to recruit, a diversity of skills with which to evaluate candidates and a more pronounced culture for potential hires to experience.  Having co-founders just makes hiring easier.
  • Sounding board: Co-founders lie awake at night worrying about the same things as you. They’re just as committed to the mission as you. And they’re equally invested in seeing all parts of the company work as you.  And so they will challenge you, scold you and push you (and often hug you) unlike anyone else at the company can or will.

If you are a regular reader you will know that at Forward Partners we do invest in solo-founders. We are big believers in the power of teams and strongly encourage our partners to find co-founders, but we are happy they do that after we invest.

With that context you can imagine that I was keen to read Satya’s reasons for preferring teams to make sure we aren’t missing anything. Rather than not missing anything it turned out that we are providing solutions. For every challenge of being a solo-founder that Satya listed Forward Partners is the answer.

  • Idea validation: Forward Partners validates the idea by deciding to invest.
  • Pressure to perform: We meet with our solo-founders weekly to help them stay focused.
  • Emotional outlet: Our team is there to help founders through highs and lows, we organise socials so everyone can blow off steam, and we encourage our partners to lean on each other for further support.
  • Skill diversity: Every solo-founder we partner with instantly gets a team of eight experts working on their startup covering product, design, development, customer acquisition, recruitment and fundraising.
  • Hiring strength: Our partners are supported by our in-house Head of Talent, get access to all of our networks for recruitment, and use their team of experts to help interview candidates.
  • Sounding board: The whole Forward Partners team is available and gets used as a sounding board. Moreover we are strong in different areas and the founder chooses whose best for any given issue.

I’m not saying that Forward Partners is a substitute for a co-founder. As I wrote above we work hard to help our solo-founders find a partner to be at the heart of their business with them, and we do that for the reasons that Satya lists. What I am saying is that we can fulfil the functions of a co-founder for 3-6 months whilst idea is validated and the business gets started.

The beauty is that after three months when it is time go find that co-founder the story is much stronger and better candidates are drawn to the company.

 

  • Glen Cooper

    Great post. Thank you Nic. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently – I’m a solo founder. Flying solo is a tough life… but I agree that being solo is not a solid barrier to find funding. It just makes everything so much more harder. Finding a co-founder has been likened to dating and joining forces has also been described as getting married… if this analogy is correct, then I’d rather not spend my time convincing someone that I’m the best partner for them. I think the more satisfying approach is to find someone who is on the same wave length and is attracted to the opportunity to work with me.

    If finding co-founders IS like dating. Then we should spend more time loving our ideas and attracting the right people through confidence in ourselves and our dream.