A couple of times each month I see questions pop up in different forums about the ideal founding team size for new ventures. The answers are typically framed from the point of view of a venture capital or angel investor who is (correctly) concerned about de-risking the business. Often this will be described as an appropriate mix of quality technical and business development skillsets matched by the founders’ ability to balance workload and deliver on a hiring plan to match growth ambitions.
There are those that say ventures can have a single founder (that was me once) and the same people, including Fred Wilson at Union Square Ventures, note that it can be done but it’s a lonely existence. Experience tells me that the optimal number of founders in a new venture is three but it turns out that this is (at best) a second order consideration. The primary consideration is who your co-founders should be.
When the first notion of my company AirShr entered my head, two thoughts crossed my mind:
1. This is technically doable. The technology is available to solve a similar use case so finding technical people (as a non-technical guy) to build AirShr is also achievable.
2. Check your work bucket list.
My work bucket list is a very short list of (at the moment) eight people who I would love to work with before it’s too late. Whether through an existing relationship or via their own admission (because I only know half of my bucket list personally), my work bucket list people have these traits in common:
- Are insanely curious
- Use empathy and compassion to lead
- Are at the top of their game
- Have a great sense of humour
- Love learning
But here’s the thing, the true awesomeness of these guys has really only been revealed when the going has gotten tough – when pressure mounts because raising capital is taking longer than expected or a controversial product decision needs to be made or life is a bit overwhelming because you haven’t slept properly since mid-2014.
This all might seem obvious, but it appears to me that when founders are out seeking partners they tend to lead with a function-first approach (i.e. I need a chief technology officer or a VP business development). In doing so their first step is to look at a candidate’s ‘on-paper’ track record and give little consideration to qualities that really matter, particularly when the going gets tough.
If you haven’t done this before, perhaps give some thought to your work bucket list and what traits would earn people a place on your list.
Now I’ve shared half of my work bucket list with you, tell me – who’s on yours?