Working With Co-Founders

Fred Wilson has a post up on the investor perspective of working with co-founders and the risks to the people and business when things take a turn for the worse in the relationship:

The co-founder dysfunction impacts everyone in and around the company, but mostly the team underneath the founders. It is like being in a family where mom and dad aren’t getting along. There is stress and strain, messed up decision making, and everyone is walking on eggshells.

There is tremendous opportunity for things to go badly wrong, especially for first-time founders. A common area of disagreement can be where the original idea was born from the group but as it becomes a start-up not everyone is willing or able to move forward with it.

While that is totally fair (everyone’s personal and professional circumstances will be different), inexperienced founders can end up with unrealistic expectations of how equity should be divided and vested.

Ultimately that can lead to both an unfair distribution of equity (which should be based on ongoing participation, responsibility and investment, not share of original idea) and resentment. Its very easy to end up in a situation where everyone is unhappy and the whole concern collapses or is at least thrown into chaos (which Fred alludes to.)

I have been very fortunate to work with 3 co-founders across 2 companies where we each understood and respected the area of strength of each other. In these situations you can build very powerful complimentary teams of co-founders. And all 3 are still very close friends to this day.

On Impatience

In Aikido, there is a technique called shinonage, which literally means “four direction throw.” I have heard it referred to over the years by another name, “the 20 year throw” because they say after about 20 years of practicing it, you are just starting to get the hang of it.

Aikido is like that — very meditative. Nothing comes easy or fast. That’s the whole point in fact. Ōsensei said “progress comes to those who train and train” yet most of us are impatient to a greater or lesser degree.

Impatience can be useful in start-ups which need a sense of urgency to make progress. Like anything, too much can be disastrous.

In his post “Impatience: The Pitfall Of Every Ambitious Person” Darius Foroux talks about the pitfalls of impatience:

And waiting is one of the hardest things in life. But if you take a close look around you, you see many examples of people who waited for the right opportunity.

Foroux talks about the importance of mentors but also highlights his belief in the value of maintaining a daily journal. I have never managed to regularly keep a journal over the years but this post has me seriously considering giving it another try. I just need to find the right app. And then of course, my impatience gets in the way and I find I have moved on to something else…

Going Global With Your Startup

The Y Combinator folks are on a roll with another great post, this time on Going Global With Your Startup.

Kwindla Hultman Kramer from highlights 5 key issues he has experienced and heard from other founders when it comes to selling your product or service outside the United States:

  1. Fulfilling international orders is still surprisingly complicated and expensive
  2. If you’re opening an office in a new country, put someone who already knows your company well in charge of that process
  3. Anywhere you have employees, you need an accountant and a lawyer
  4. Work visas are complicated, expensive, and stressful
  5. You’re going to need to get on an airplane sometimes

There is lots more detail and good advice in the post so you should read the whole thing. (I’ll wait…)

I have taken a software company global in both directions – first a company started in Europe (Ireland) that expanded into the United States, and then my current company Qstream, which started here in Boston and then expanded into Europe (Ireland and the UK.)

I have no experience with #1 because my companies have never made physical products. (Technically I guess that is not quite true because my first company was long enough ago that we originally shipped the product on 3.5″ floppy disks and later on CDs. Good times. Good times.)

However, I have dealt with #2 through #5 extensively and strongly agree with the recommendations. I have spoken to groups of entrepreneurs and individuals in the past about going global and you can definitely short-circuit learning a lot of lessons the hard way by talking to someone who has done it.

It is still remarkably complicated to set-up and run a business in multiple locations, particularly for a start-up that is resource constrained. You also need people who know the local culture, customs and laws. If you can get the balance right (don’t rush to do it, take it slow, one country at a time) then it can be a big competitive advantage.

Advice For First Time Founders

Y Combinator has a great post that starts with 3 questions:

1. What are some things that you should’ve known as a first-time founder but did not?
2. How did you learn them?
3. How did they help?


They collected responses from a bunch of founders and there is some great stuff in here.

Part of me wonders though how much it will resonate with someone who hasn’t yet dealt with the issues raised.

I see so much good advice in here, based on lessons learned the hard way across the 3 companies I have started, but part of doing a tech startup is having a certain amount of healthy delusion. Delusion about how good your idea is and your likelihood of succeeding.

This is necessary because startups are one of those endeavors where if you knew how hard it was going to be and how long it was going to take, you would never do it. People will tell you you are crazy. You will hit roadblock after roadblock. You need this delusion to persevere.

But it is also your Achilles Heel. How do you recognize good advice (on hiring for example) but ignore bad advice (on your go-to-market model say)? Here your healthy delusion can become just plain old delusion and you end up having to learn the lessons the hard way.

I’ll let you know if I figure out the answer to that one. In the meantime, the responses are full of pearls of wisdom. Also, as is often the case on Hacker News, the comments are great too.