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Will That Be One Founder or Two?

Matt Harvey, Stanford University June 25, 2011

You will not be alone when starting a company. There will be vendors, suppliers, partners, developers, regulators, and, with some luck, customers who will embrace your company’s product or service. Who knows, you may even get some of them to pay for it.

There should be no shortage of people to make human contact with when getting your venture off the ground. However, in the life of your company, there is one person that will be more important than any other: your co-founder. Unless you choose to fly solo.

The Buddy System

Some entrepreneurs see major benefits in being the sole founder when starting a company (or even being the only board member). However, starting on your own will be a challenging experience, and possibly a lonely one. At the end of each grueling day, who will you talk to who can completely understand what you’re trying to accomplish. Remember, friends and significant others aren’t paid to hear you complain.

For Wences Casares and Micky Malka, co-founders of Patagon and Bling Nation, their positive working relationship thrives on a shared willingness to over-communicate. Also, as serial entrepreneurs, Casares and Malka continue to work together because each man recognizes complementary strengths in the other. Casares comes from a technical background, whereas Malka brings more direct experience in financial aspects of business management. However, according to Malka, “We don’t divide the roles. We always [project] as one coherent owner, founder and CEO.”

Having a strong co-founder relationship also provides the leaders with a sounding board who can see the big picture. You can pitch wild ideas to your partner and know that you will receive honest (sometimes brutal) feedback on whether the idea has merit. “You need to have a strong ego to be an entrepreneur,” says Casares, “or at least very strong convictions about your abilities.”

Both men show this confidence to the outside world, but when it comes time to work together, Casares and Malka solidly believe in leaving egos at door. In this video, Casares and Malka discuss the role of ego and the importance of sharing credit with your co-founder.

View more clips from this lecture on ECorner

A Co-Founder Myth?

Not everyone buys into the necessity of the co-founder relationship. Venture capitalist Mark Suster calls this the “co-founder mythology.” Suster believes Silicon Valley is particularly keen on perpetuating the co-founder model as the only way to go. Of course, he also said Silicon Valley is lazy. And keep in mind that if you choose to have more than one co-founder, and the relationship sours, they might make a movie about it.

In the end, each entrepreneur needs to make the decision that is right for them and right for the venture. Are you the type of personality who can share control, credit and camaraderie with another person? It’s not about adhering to one ideology or another, but about choosing what works best. An intelligent, dynamic and hardworking individual can certainly lead a venture to success. But so can co-founders… like at Google, Yahoo and maybe this new venture will five million users and counting.