Avoid Equal Co-founders
One lesson I have learnt through the years is that a new venture must avoid having equal co-founders. The emphasis is on the word “equal.” Whenever there is more than one founder, the temptation is to ensure that everyone is treated equally – and thus equity and powers should be also divided equally. I used to think the same way in my early days as an entrepreneur. What I realised over time is that this doesn’t work well in reality. The solution is to have one person who is the dominant leader and the final arbiter in decisions.
Businesses are not about democracy. There has to be one person in charge – the leader. That leader can have multiple deputies, but the buck stops with the leader. What is true for countries also applies to companies. In the absence of a single leader, decision-making becomes slow in the search for consensus and accountability disappears. No single person can be held to account. That is why countries have “Prime Minister” and “President”, not co-Prime Ministers and co-Presidents. And that is why companies must have a single CEO at the top.
For startups, agility is important. In the early days of a venture, there are many uncertainties to be grappled with. Each decision is about reducing the risk of failure. Every day survived brings one a step closer to success. As an entrepreneur one is flying blind in the early days. Decisions need to be made quickly, and course corrections need to be applied frequently. During this process, it becomes very difficult to sit and debate every decision in a group. All that will do is to get the team to the lowest common denominator in decision-making and that too after delays.
In my early days as an entrepreneur, I had many 50:50 ventures. All failed. The search for equality resulted in failure. Too much time was spent debating pros and cons, and us getting each other to see the other person’s point of view. I would have been served better had one of us taken charge and moved ahead. Ever since, I have eschewed equal partnerships at the founding level. One can be liberal in granting equity, but at the end of the day, there must always be a single person in-charge to make the key decisions.
Tomorrow: My Proficorn Way (Part 28)