The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What are the benefits of starting a company with a partner?” is written by Prabhjot Singh, co-founder and president of Pyze.
There is an African proverb, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I presume the rationale behind this truism to be a simple one: If you’re running 100 meters, you can probably run it faster alone; but if you need to run 100 miles, you probably want someone alongside you. This proverb is especially appropriate for first-time entrepreneurs, as running a company is much like running 100 miles, if not more.
All new companies are either trying to disrupt existing, well-established players or create a new market. Both are daunting tasks that can take years to come to fruition. It’s unlikely that someone who has never started a company before has the diverse knowledge and ability needed in product management, engineering, marketing, sales, business development, and fundraising to take the company over the goal line. The process is physically exhausting, psychologically draining, and mentally challenging. But having someone by your side who is as invested in the journey as you are will greatly increase your likelihood of success. I know this for a fact, as the half dozen for-profit, nonprofit, and social enterprise ventures I’ve started in the last 15 years have all been with co-founders, and they’ve been immensely valuable to my companies’ growth.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, though. Every venture that I’ve been involved with, whether for-profit or nonprofit, has gone through turbulent seas and required all hands on deck to get back on track. If your co-founder is going to be the first person to jump ship when you head into rough waters, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to succeed.
Choosing a business partner is not too different than choosing a life partner—not just anyone will do—it has to be the right person. For some people, that may take a few tries, but if you don’t want to get badly hurt, make the choice wisely and commit to trying your best at working through kinks.
Your partner should complement your strengths and weaknesses. If you are technical, detail-oriented, and introverted, your partner should have business acumen, a big-picture perspective, and an outgoing personality. The key here is being able to appreciate your partner’s skills and idiosyncrasies, and understand how he or she will contribute to your shared success. A partner with the same skills and thought process as you may make decision-making easier, but can quickly lead to groupthink. Someone who thinks differently than you, yet complements your abilities, will likely yield richer discussions and better decision-making.
My first startup, the Sikh Coalition, was born in New York in the wake of 9/11, with the mission to create a world where Sikhs may freely practice and enjoy their faith and to foster strong relations with their local communities. My five other co-founders were essential for getting it off the ground. Everyone demonstrated extreme commitment and brought a variety of backgrounds in law, community organization, technology, and finance.
Since the organization was born under extreme circumstances, we had countless heated discussions about strategy and tactics. But because we shared a high level of trust, the group would instinctively defer to the person with the expertise in the matter being discussed, and these episodes were almost always constructive.
Some of the most common questions potential investors ask co-founders are, “How did you meet?” and, “How long have you known each other?” All during that first interaction, investors are sizing up rapport between co-founders, how complementary they are, and how they might deal with conflict. These are all critical points to consider when choosing a partner. You may or may not want to start a company with your brother or sister, but you certainly don’t want to start a company with someone you met last week. It’s important to engage with your co-founder, have a few dates, and really get to know them before you tie the knot.
I also started Pixatel, a social enterprise that is reimagining education delivery in the developing world, and then Pyze, a startup that provides sophisticated marketing and intelligence tools to app publishers—both with co-founders. Trust was a huge factor in taking these endeavors from conception to launch and beyond, as we were investing time and money without really knowing where the path would lead. Also, working with experienced technologists enabled me to focus on things I do best while also providing me the opportunity to learn about areas like product development, where I didn’t have as much depth as my counterparts.
There are multiple benefits of starting a company with a co-founder, especially if it’s your first rodeo. You double the energy, double the networks, and double the brainpower that is brought to bear on your project. However, it has to be the right co-founder who matches your values, shares your work ethic, and complements your abilities. The wrong co-founder will neither get you anywhere quicker nor far. For some, going solo may well be the saner option.