Here's what it takes to be a co-founder

SuppliedMentorloop co-founders Lucy Lloyd and Heidi Holmes
  • Having a co-founder in your startup can help with sharing the responsibilities, as well as playing to the respective strengths of those involved.
  • But finding the right match is essential for the business to succeed.
  • We spoke to several Australian co-founders to identify the five things they believe you need to succeed.

Lennon and McCartney, Jobs and Wozniak, and more recently Atlassian duo Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar are examples of when two heads are better than one when it comes to creating something great.

But what makes the relationship between co-founders work is elusive and challenging, as both The Beatles and Jobs and Woz partnerships demonstrate.

Is it easier to simply execute on your vision on your own. Plenty have done it, such as Sked Social CEO and founder Hugh Stephens, who’s built a $5 million-plus business on his own, but says it would have been less of a struggle with a partner.

After all, when you have doubts, who else can you share them with?

“If I was to do it again, I would look for a co-founder with the right alignment, who shared my vision, and was good at the parts I struggle with,” he said.

“Startup life is significantly less lonely with a co-founder, and two brains are almost always better than one. You just need to ensure the work is distributed clearly and fairly.

“As a solo founder, I have had to read a lot and think about how people with different experiences and perspectives would approach a problem, to stop myself from operating within my own filter bubble. This external insight is so important to a growing business.”

Business Insider spoke with three Australian businesses about their co-founder relationships and how to best ensure that partnership is a success, along with their venture.

Here are five themes they identified as underpinning strong co-founder relationships:

Be clear on your vision

Craig SillitoeShareRing co-founder Tim Boss

Having met at The CEO Institute six years ago, co-founders Tim Bos and Peter David, have now successfully founded two businesses together, Keaz and ShareRing.

Bos, now co-founder and CEO of ShareRing, said creating A business with someone else means “you’re going to be joined at the hip for a very long time” and people do compare it to a marriage.

“You’ll be with each other through thick and thin, good times and bad, and you need to make sure you both keep focused on your goal, no matter what happens,” he said.

“I’ve heard some real horror stories around co-founders have a falling out, so ensure you share most of the same values and long term goals for the business. The last thing you want is to disagree on your company road-map and potential exit plan.”

Heidi Holmes co-founded cloud-based mentoring software platform Mentorloop with Lucy Lloyd in 2016 and agreed that a shared vision was fundamental to building the foundations of a strong co-founder relationship.

“While it’s always a big leap, having an idea and vision you both wholeheartedly believe in, makes going into business together not only an easier decision, but makes for a stronger partnership,” she said.

“Be clear on this vision from the beginning, and be sure that you both believe in it. Think of it as your north star – it’s a great reference point for you to both connect back to when you face any tough decisions or uncertainty.”

Ben Thompson co-founded cloud-powered people management platform, Employment Hero, with David Tong in 2014.

Like Bos and Holmes, Tong agrees that a company’s mission is paramount.

“Make sure you’re as passionate about the company’s mission statement as your co-founder,” he said.

“Believing in the same thing means you’re aligned and working towards the same goals. It also means you love what you do, which is really important, especially on the rainy days when things seem to not be going as well as planned.”

Work to your strengths

Holmes says it’s important to define each other’s roles early on.

“It’s something Lucy and I have done from the start and continue to do. We’ve changed roles as CEO and it’s never been an issue. We always look at what’s in the best interests of the business and who is best to deliver that,” she said.

“As co-founders, you’re both in this together — don’t let ego get in the way of making the right decision.”

Tong says the key is to find someone different to yourself.

“Innovation and disruption is at its best when you have people of different backgrounds, experience and skills working on the problem,” he said.

Employment Hero co-founders Ben Thompson and David Tong

Complementary skill sets

Like the varied skills sets you seek around a board table, Tim Bos says that range is invaluable in a partnership.

“Many co-founders often have challenges around areas of responsibility, decision making, but fortunately, Peter and I didn’t have any of those issues,” he said.

“Our skills complemented each other rather nicely. My skill set was more in the areas of technology and strategy, whereas Peter’s was in the business management, team building and sales sides. Make sure you strike some sort of balance – if one of you is too dominant, it’ll never work.”

Passion

The energy levels need to align, especially when it comes to keeping the relationship on an even keel, Bos advised, if you want to succeed.

“Make sure you both put 200% into building the company. The last thing you want is for resentment to build because one of you isn’t pulling your weight,” said Bos.

“It’s happened to me before with another co-founder, and it’s not a good feeling to think that you’re carrying the burden of the company.”

Transparency

Bos and Tong both believe keeping open lines of communication open is key.

“We also make sure we raise any problems or issues with each other as quickly as possible,” Bos said.

“Two heads are always better than one when it comes to problem solving, and it also ensures that there’s no hidden surprises for us.”

Part of the discipline for Tong is scheduling time to discuss things together.

“Communication and transparency are the most important skills that Ben and I continue to work at through regular catch-ups every week,” he said.

“Something simple that we’ve got into a rhythm with is identifying the types of updates, whether they are an FYI only or a require help with. As one of the main ongoing challenges you’ll face working together is understanding how to de-prioritise projects in order to focus on what is important, you need to keep communication and transparency at the core of what you do.”

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.