We’ve all heard that founding teams are more likely to succeed than solo founders (data from the Startup Genome project and The Founder’s Dilemma seems to prove that). Co-founders can complement each other’s skillsets, provide psychological support, and prevent you from chasing down a rabbit hole or losing sight of the big picture. All true, but only if you’ve found the right co-founders. Working with the wrong people can lead to exactly the opposite and guarantee failure.
I believe that my previous two ventures failed mainly because of the founding team (which I’m included in). How do I know? Because companies with almost identical products and value propositions succeeded. So, what are the characteristics that led to failure when the product was “right”? I believe these are the mistakes me and my previous co-founders made:
(I myself was one of the “bad” founding members who was guilty of the below, I’m not just trying blame other people)
Lack of commitment: Don’t work with people who have other time-consuming commitments and consider the startup a “side project”. In particular, don’t found a startup with people that are busy with school, have personal issues, are traveling, or are working a full-time job. These people will become the bottleneck. Tasks either don’t get done, or they get done at a very slow pace. And once stuff doesn’t get done it’s easy to blame someone else instead of doing something about it yourself. I’ve been on both sides of this. Sorry for not being committed, I’ll know better next time. This is one of the reasons why young people often make for particularly good founders. They don’t have a lot of other commitments.
Lack of a shared vision/goal: Don’t work with people that don’t share your vision or long-term goal for the venture. Be wary of people that are in it for the money alone. As a startup founder you’ll be working 48 hours a day, so you better make sure that you care about what you’re working on, or your energy will drain very quickly.
Lack of skills: Don’t work with people that don’t bring unique skills (applicable to a startup) to the table. Having someone like this in your team will down the mood of the other teams members that are providing value. There is one exception to this: Bring on smart people that are motivated and willing to learn whatever it takes. Be particularly wary of people that have a certain skillset, but are not motivated to learn new skills relevant to a startup environment.
Not being in the same physical location: Don’t work with people that are not willing to be in the same location as you. While online project management and collaboration tools have gotten significantly better over the past few years there is no substitute for being in the same office and brainstorming ideas on a whiteboard. You need to spend quality time together. Doing so makes sure that motivation stays high, and that everyone is on the same page.
If you haven’t found the right team yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. You are better off starting alone and adding the right people to your team when you find them. No one can guarantee startup success, but a bad founding team is a guarantee for failure.