A co-founder can lighten the load but choose wisely
Sign up for myFT Daily Digest to be the first to know about entrepreneurship news.
The writer is the co-founder of London-based shoe brand Sante + Wade.
Yes we can! A sentence full of hope, which speaks of a desire to meet all the challenges that lie ahead. This optimism and positive attitude is the state of mind of many entrepreneurs. It may have been reduced to embers during the pandemic, but it only needs a breath of fresh air to become a fire.
The UK is barely out of lockdown and business confidence is already on the rise. A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce and Funding Circle, an SME lending platform, found that 63% of companies are confident about their prospects for growth over the next 12 months, despite lingering fears of future lockdowns .
Optimism is a powerful motivator, especially at the start of an entrepreneurial journey. I, too, was clear of all doubts when I started my business. I knew there were obstacles, but in my zeal nothing was insurmountable.
I don’t think I overestimated my abilities, but I have surely downplayed the magnitude of the challenges ahead. I refused to be put off by the statistics predicting the demise of most small businesses in their first five years.
As for the competitors, I had done my SWOT analysis but I minimized the impact they could have on my business and preferred to focus on what I could achieve.
But this “optimistic bias,” as Nobel economist Daniel Kahneman describes in his book, Think, fast and slow, is both a blessing and a risk.
After a while, my own optimism faltered. I still had faith in the concept but wondered how far I could accomplish on my own. It wasn’t just about the volume of work, but whether I could depend solely on my knowledge and expertise.
Whether to fly solo or be part of a team is one that many entrepreneurs face at some point in their journey.
Sophie Barnard, textile designer and founder of clothing brand Longstaff Longstaff, has owned a business since 2017. Recently she has started to consider the idea of finding a co-founder.
“At first I was pretty good at doing everything, but I need specific skills. And it’s exhausting and lonely when you find yourself alone in another dead end. “
Loneliness is an oft-cited disadvantage of running a one-person operation. Among the benefits that a business partnership can bring, this is the most obvious, responding to this human desire for connection. Shared responsibilities and decision-making also lead to different perspectives, which in turn refine ideas and stimulate creativity.
More importantly, it can free founders from days filled with mundane things, giving them the space to pursue long-term growth strategies. It’s a win-win, but if it were that simple, everyone would.
“There’s a lot at stake in this path rather than employing someone,” Barnard says. “Right now, I would like the investment, skills and contribution of a partner, but people are very keen to point out the difficulties of the partnership – vision, personality, finances – and those would be my concerns too. “
The business world is littered with stories of high profile partnerships that have turned sour: think Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg or the Ambani brothers of the Reliance empire. Whether it’s friends, family, or coworkers, a partnership that doesn’t work can torch the entire business.
While it has never been easier to find a co-founder – there are countless websites and networking opportunities devoted entirely to this cause – the advice is always the same: choose wisely and for the right reasons, by choosing. using the same criteria as for selecting a life partner.
The relationship itself can be a complicated dance around personalities and egos. However, mastering the interaction with your business partner is essential if you want to grow together seamlessly.
I finally chose a co-founder with the skills and experience that I lacked and who helped temper my excess of optimism. We have not always been in phase but every day we improve ourselves to move and act in unison.
It means working on our own unique choreography which, when done right, feels effortless and warrants renewed optimism for the future.