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The Power Of Two: The Importance Of Having a Co-Founder To achieve superior compatibility between co-founders, going beyond the designation-led hierarchy, an ecosystem needs to be developed in the organizational set-up

By Vinayak Burman

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Is the power of two over one a potent or effective one? How relevant is the age-old Hindi adage "ek aur ek gyarah'—which essentially espouses the importance of having force-multiplier—in the journey of an entrepreneur? Or is it a classic case of too many cooks spoil the broth if one seeks to drive value and achieve growth by having business counterparts on-board? Although there are innumerable examples of companies across sectors founded by solo founders as well as co-founders that have been performing phenomenally well; entrepreneurs who are navigating their ventures at various growth stages have these questions popping up at some time or the other in their mind—shall I continue to go solo? Or shall I have a co-founder to power my venture to the next level?

For every illustrious list of globally celebrated solo founders like Jeff Bezos of Amazon or Elon Musk of Space X, there is a formidable line-up of companies founded by co-founders such as Google founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Apple by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne and Microsoft by Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Beyond the tech-world, examples like renowned ice-cream brand Ben & Jerry's founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield and world's leading consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble (P&G) founded by William Procter and James Gamble reiterates the power of two. Back home, amid the success stories of people like Vjay Shekhar Sharma who founded digital wallet PayTM, the jury is still out thanks to companies like Motilal Oswal founded by Motilal Oswal and Raamdeo Agrawal or food delivery startup Zomato by Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah.

The analysis on various companies being run by two or multiple co-founders points to the fact that the role of a co-founder in an organization is essentially bespoke. Filling certain skill-gaps shouldn't be the purpose of having a co-founder on-board. In fact, it's not about certain skillsets, experience and strategic expertise that a co-founder brings to the table. The key differentiator is the intangible complementary skillsets that the role lends to a co-founder eco-system. There should be some hacks or interchangeable role plays among co-founders to tackle difficult situations while dealing with external stakeholders or investors. A co-founder acts as an anchor to keep others grounded when too many things are happening at the same time or a sense of uncertainty prevails.

However, to achieve superior compatibility between co-founders, going beyond the designation-led hierarchy, an ecosystem needs to be developed in the organizational set-up where each co-founder is entrusted with a particular business vertical. Their decisions need to be respected. Having said that, there should be room for a healthy debate or exchanges of views among co-founders. But, each co-founder should respect the limit to develop a sense of vertical ownership which will enhance mutual trust and respect among co-founders.

The relationship essence between co-founders has to be a symbiotic one. The dictatorial element in the relationships among co-founders—where one founder is calling all the shots and others are not challenging—adversely affects transparency and scares external participants such as investors during decision-making process. Co-founder eco-system that promotes openness and clarity delivers the desired results in the long run.

On the flip side, a co-founder ecosystem flounders when there is a misalignment of vision. Co-founders who are on a different wavelength can lead to increased instances of conflicts and co-founder disputes. Such unsavoury instances can create a miserable impression of the organization among employees and customers and prove detrimental to the growth and development of the business in the long term and that is why relevant governance protective measures need to be well thought out in advance.

Having said that, the advantages of having a co-founder in terms of the value proposition always outweigh the negatives. The role of a co-founder comes with a certain amount of responsibilities which are related more to the emotional quotient than to the intellectual quotient. The support-system of co-founders always helps if one is ready to look beyond the issues like stake, remuneration, operative significance of roles, etc. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that on boarding of co-founder should be an organic process based on shared vision, goals and passion.

Vinayak Burman

Managing and founding partner, Vertices Partners

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