Every now and then, I get a big reminder of just how helpful it is for entrepreneurs to have co-founders.
Of course, having the wrong co-founders is really damaging. Also, there are many successful founders who have done great without a meaningful co-founder. But for the most part, I tend to agree that the best performing early stage teams are led by at least two or three founders who are meaningful co-owners with complimentary skill sets.
There are lots of reasons for this. But beyond the practical stuff, I think a big part of the benefit is largely emotional. Couple examples.
First, I think having co-founders smooths out the emotional roller-coaster of being an entrepreneur.
My partners and I co-founded NextView together and are all equal partners. We’ve known each other for a long time, but have grown closer as colleagues and friends over the years we have been working together. Each Christmas, we treat ourselves to a nice dinner with our wives and often reminisce on the past year.
During one of these dinners a couple years ago, we were reminiscing on our first year getting NextView going. We were in a good mood, and one of my partners remarked:
“We’ve come a long way from that Thai lunch”
My response to that was: “What Thai lunch?”
It turns out, 8 months prior this, we had heard some disappointing news that took the wind out of our sails a bit. We then went to lunch together, and had a bit of a solemn discussion about what had happened.
The funny thing was, I didn’t really think much of what had happened, and that day was just like any other day having lunch with my partners. It wasn’t that big a deal. But for one of my partners, it’s was an early low point, and one that stuck out in his memory a few months later.
The point is that starting a business has many highs and lows. Some of those lows are very obvious, and it’s nice to have co-founders to share the disappointment with. But a lot of times, the lows aren’t all that bad, they just happen to hit you at a time when you are particularly fatigued or emotionally vulnerable.
When that happens, it’s nice to have co-founders who remember those incidents like just another thai lunch. It smooths out the roller-coaster.
Second, having co-founders allows for rests in between sprints.
Founding a company is strangely both a marathon AND a series of sprints. I notice this quite a lot with seed stage companies. When the business is new, there is a lot of excitement and passion. Often, the team and founders can sprint at near top-speed for the first 12-18 months and conquer the immediate obstacles ahead.
But, after these companies see some success, raise a series A, and continue to build the business, you realize that there is so much more to do. Employees fatigue, early business assumptions fail, competitors become aggressive, bad hires start to hurt. Etc etc. You feel the pressure to continue sprinting, but you look back and say “I’ve been sprinting for two years, and I don’t think I can keep sprinting for the next 3, 4, 5, or more”.
Co-founders give you a bit of leeway so that the ship can keep moving fast even if all of you aren’t sprinting at the same time, all the time. Not that much leeway, but a bit.
Again, from our experience, my partners and I pride ourselves as being hungry and dedicating the prime years of our careers to NextView. Venture is not an early retirement job for us after we got hit bThis is very much our startup and our baby.
As a result, we sprint pretty hard all the time. But things happen outside of work that make sprinting continuously difficult. For me, that happened the middle of last year when my Dad passed away after a prolonged bout with cancer.
My parents both live in Hong Kong, so over the years, I’ve taken somewhat frequent trips to visit him during his treatment. But when he took a turn for the worse in the beginning of 2012, that activity amped up quite a bit. My little daughters both earned priorty status on United over those few months from frequent trips, and I was a bit of an emotional zombie for a time.
Trust me, even though I felt like I was working hard, I wasn’t at my best. Having partners allowed us as a team to continue making promising investments, and relieved a bit of pressure on me to sprint quite as hard during a time when it just wasn’t possible. I appreciated it a ton, and am super-excited about a number of the investments we made during that period.
I know that starting a venture capital firm is fairly different from starting a technology company. But I think that the emotional benefits of having great co-founders is pretty similar.