Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Co-founder selection

An entrepreneur when starting off his venture typically tries to on-board a co-founder, and the most co-founders are friends. On-boarding a co-founder is an interesting junction in the start-up's journey. Here are possible benefits and drawback one would need to think of in choosing co-founders:

Clear Benefits:
Having a co-founder is an indication that the ideator has been "sold" the idea to someone other than himself/herself, and that someone has joined the pursuit - this is an interesting signal to the outside world (primarily investors & employees). Resource pooling clearly emerges out as a very tangible benefit from such an approach - thereby de-risking to a limited extent.  
- "I am not alone believing in an idea!"

Teams enable the entrepreneur pool in some essential "factors of production", in the classical terminology - land, labor, capital. Definitely, this process has added resources as a result of accumulation from more than one of the founders. In the contemporary world we could possibly look at some more dimensions to the classical factors - network, intellectual capital etc. 
- "I am possibly better off!

For start-ups, whose first challenge is survival this means: on-boarding a stakeholder would enhance the survivability of a start up; a greater breather space, and potentially a greater growth prospect. 
- "I survive to fight another day!"

The benefit is not just in terms of physical resources the idea sounding, check and balance mechanism, emotional support etc are all packaged into this. 

Other implications:
In addition to selling the concept of idea, the ideator is also responsible for the firm that gets formed. In many ways the identities of the two - the firm and the founder overlap when one starts off. However, realizing that these two could be separate over a longer period is important - the founder mindful of the distinguishing between the firm and the founder, the founder would need to make a decision that is beneficial for the firm which could continue perpetually. The co-founder decision one makes should be thought out in this light, and with the benefits to the firm be predominantly greater than the personal needs of the founder. Ask the question:
- "Would the person be the right fit for the firm?"

The ideator when on-boarding a co-founder would also have to note that the initial idea could also undergo a change. In addition to accessing new resources (means) there are new goals that the firm would need to adjust itself to. Ask yourself:
- "Am I willing to change he goal? will the joint effort of the co-founders make the firm better off?"

Many of the co-founders shared personal friendships - this could potentially be the source of the on-boarding, rather than the idea.  We are all emotional being, and encouraging friends in their entrepreneurial pursuit could be but a logical extension of the friendship. The ideator would benefit from reflecting on what each individual in his network could get to the table and relate it how the potential exploration could be helped by the individual. Ask yourself:
- "Is it the idea or is it my relationship alone?"

Few words of caution in selecting friends co-founders:

If the common interest is not the idea, and only limited to the social relationship - the firm wouldn't benefit as much from from such an alignment of the founders. An obligation cannot be the source to a long term commitment; periodic incentivization is needed for one to sustain such a relationship.
Last but not the least, co-founder conflicts are extremely common. There are many who do go to the extreme step of saying - be ready to loose friendship if you want to get into a partnership for venturing out into a business. Distinguishing what would form the professional space and what the personal space is important - this ability to separate the issue from the actor would be extremely helpful for founder.

The call to add on a co-founder is one that could have significant implications on the firm and the ideator. So think through before you on-board your co-foudners.

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