Role of founders, finding co-founders and working with them for social startups

Monday, June 12, 2017, 05:03

By Ravi Sreedharan

Role of founders, finding co-founders and working with them for social startups

Like marriage, finding the right partners for your startup is also a gamble and there are no formulae that can guarantee success. However, there are experiences of people who have had successful partnerships that may offer something for others looking for a co-founder. 

Several founders wonder what to look for in a co-founder, when to get a co-founder, and several such questions with respect to partnering with a new co-founder. The founder of a startup has to be responsible for a few aspects that will critically determine the success of the company. Here are five things I would pick

For a start, the founder has to own the vision. This vision is based on a good, if not great idea, is likely to make a difference to society, backed by experience, data, and other support. The idea must be ambitious and inspiring for others to want to be part of that vision. And, always maintain the bar high and never bring that down, else you will lose all your supporters and well-wishers. You need to have a dream and be able to sell that dream to others. 

Secondly, the founders of a development sector organization should demonstrate immense credibility. Credibility in terms of your commitment to the social change you are working for, credibility that you have the ability to execute or pull this off and that you can be trusted. Some things that help with credibility are the people who are backing you and your idea, your skin in the game i.e. what are you putting into this venture - it could be money, it could be time, or it could be something you are giving up to pursue the startup. 

Third - founders need to show 'visible personal commitment'. This means lead from the front, get your hands dirty, be involved with all aspects of the work your organization does, and besides owning the vision, also have clear ownership and line of sight into all mission elements to achieve the vision. 

Fourth - founders must evangelize the idea and get believers and well-wishers with missionary zeal. Founders need to continuously find and create opportunities to talk, talk, and talk some more about the idea and plans. You will know you are doing well if you find others evangelizing your idea. 

Fifth - Positioning the organization for support and allies. A strange thing I learnt in the course of fund raising and getting ideas and inputs is that when you ask for money, you get advice and when you seek advice, you get money (sometimes). The founders need to position the organization in a manner to maximize opportunities for getting support and funds. So, you need to be present in the right places - like seminars and conference, you need to have talked to all the key people and ensure you remain on their radar. This also means that the founders need to manage all the key relationships besides opening several flanks for the organization. 

Another thing that seems obvious and has not made my list of five things for that reason is that founders need to be insistent about high quality and low costs. This starts with the Founders and the culture they create in the organizations. 

Choosing Co-Founders: 

Here are my five suggestions: 

1. Get people who you consider are better than you 

2. Get people who are very different from you. People who compliment you both in terms of competencies, their personality traits and their working styles 

3. Get people who you respect and will respect you 

4. Get people who will challenge you 

5. Get them in as soon as possible so that they also contribute and own the idea and the plans 

Working with Co-Founders: 

Again, here are five things I have chosen for working together with Co-Founders: 

1. Spend time together - have off-sites every three months and stay in touch with each other's work 

2. Get external facilitators to help in building cohesion and synergy among the co-founders 

3. Have outsiders on your board/ advisory group that add diversity and will challenge and support you, but the founders should stay as a core group 

4. Develop the ability to argue and even fight but not lose respect for the others and belief in their value to the group 

5. Founders should be all equal - and don't call them co-founders. Call all of them 'Founders'

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