The co-founder conundrum | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 09, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 09, 2018

500 days of startup

The co-founder conundrum

Ideally, a workweek should consist of 40 hours. But life isn't that easy; we almost always have to work 45-55 hours a week. If you are an investment banker or a corporate stooge, then probably you will be putting in nearly 60 to 70 hours per week. But if you are in a startup especially as a co-founder or someone who's leading a part of the venture, then you'll have to put in more work than anyone else.

If you take a look at a calendar, everyone ends up working nearly 300 days a year. But when you're in a startup, the stress and the workload make it seem like time is stretched. You will feel as if you're working for 500 days straight. This gives you a bit of preface about how and why I penned this article with this title. In my coming articles, I will try to navigate you through the elusive yet mesmerising world of local startups.

This time, I'm writing about the co-founder: your comrade, your brother-in-arms, and your shoulder to cry on when venture capitalists reject your pitch.

Firstly, do you need a co-founder?

If you are the kind of person who believes you alone can do everything, then I am afraid you shouldn't be in the startup business. You are a classic example of 'Wanterprenuer' because you clearly don't have any idea about your strengths and weaknesses, you don't have a good network of people with whom you can discuss your ideas, and you may have trust issues. All you want is to earn money and not share it with anyone. These three deadly sins are going to cost your venture in the long run. So yes, you need a co-founder. They don't have to be as involved as you are with the venture, but your co-founders should complement your skill sets at a robust capacity. If you look at the most successful companies that were once mere startups, you will see all had more than one founder: for Steve Jobs there was Steve Wozniak, for Larry Page there was Sergey Brin, for Bill Gates there was Paul Allen. Having more than one co-founder ensures that while you are actually starting up, your business will be far less stressful and time-consuming, and you will have someone to share your problems with.

But does that mean there aren't any successful startups with just one founder? No, there are plenty of companies that have a single founder. But in most cases, those founders were already vastly experienced or they are backed by wealthy and experienced VCs.

How many co-founders should you have?

There isn't any magic number. If you look at other successful startups, you will see that the number of co-founders varies between 2 to 4. In my personal experience, a startup operates best when the number of co-founders is three. Three individuals with expertise in different areas can help the startup grow in multiple dimensions.

Who does what?

Once you and your co-founders hatch an idea, it's time to divide and conquer. So it's better to define what role each of the co-founders will play and what responsibilities will be shared. There's a chance of clashing roles, so it's best to sit down and clearly discuss everything about the business. This includes deciding on the amount of shares each person will have, the contingencies, equity distribution, and capital. You must write down everything you decide upon in the meeting, and formalise them in the founders' agreement. Many actually forget to explicitly mention the time commitment and the exit strategy in the document. This may create problems during work, so it's best to specify everything.

Some co-founders want to stay silent partners by investing money, experience or other resources. Make sure those things are mentioned in the agreement. Involve a lawyer or law firm to vet everything out.

The reason for doing all this is to make sure the startup doesn't suffer because of any clashes between you and your cofounders. Globally, difference of opinion between co-founders is a big reason why startups fail. Try your best to get along with your cofounders. Even if your startup fails despite doing everything right, you will at least have trusted people you can start a new business with.

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