The Gray Hair Speaketh

Advice that is largely Unsolicited..

Startup Founders: Better Alike or Different??

I spent a few hours at the recent Enterprising India Summit, organized by the Mumbai Chapter of TiE.

In the short time that I was there, I happened to catch a talk by Sachin Bansal, founder of Flipkart. As a part of his presentation, he talked about himself and his co-founder, and about how they were so alike that they could virtually replace each other. Well, at least on the work front. And of course, he was making it look like a great advantage that he had, in having two founders, with very similar backgrounds and skills.

I have wondered about this, though. Of course, not for Flipkart in particular, but for any entrepreneurial venture, in general.

It is an easier route often, for two (or more) classmates or good friends (with similar mindsets) to think about getting together, and starting an entrepreneurial venture. And quite likely, they may have the same background, skills, aptitude, approach etc.  And maybe due to this factor, there is a fundamental comfort, as they may end up agreeing more than disagreeing. This may also make for good chemistry.

But is this good for the venture?

Think about it from these perspectives:

1. A startup is usually a lean organization. Each person of the startup team is contributing in his / her own way, so as to make the whole. There is usually no room for buffer and no room for redundancy. Then, having two (or more) very crucial members of the team, viz. the co-founders, to have similar backgrounds, is it not an expensive redundancy for the startup?

2. We have also read stories of the so-well-constructed founding team of Mindtree where they were absolutely clear of the kind of skills that were necessary to build Mindtree as a company, and how they looked for, and found and lured people in, to be a part of that founding team. Recent events have put a question mark on the company, but that apart, the effort at the time of founding, and the process, was exemplary. Is that a better way to go about it? Identify key skills that will be necessary for your mission, and then look for partners who can be co-founders in your venture??

3. When things are going fine, it is good to have people who ‘get along well’ and have a similar mindset. However at the first signs of challenge, what if the co-founders all, only think in one common way? What if there is no counter point of view? There is no challenge to the proposal? While different mindsets can sometimes cause potentially, the ship to go in different directions (however, that happens when there is a lack of maturity in the team), on the positive side, different mindsets or approaches give you multiple perspectives on the same issue. And at different times, there may be value and relevance of a different approach. In that respect, non-uniformity of thought, a certain diversity in fact, is a great asset to have, at the founding team level.

So I do wonder on the best approach here? I think startups need a mix, at the founding team level. Success of Flipkart may not be because the founders are so-alike, but in spite of it! Sometimes, we look at success and try to draw all inspiration from it. Try to ape the entire model. Flipkart may not have succeeded because the partners are so alike, but because of managing to do many other things right.

Also it may be appreciated that two or more people, going to the same college or the same program, do not necessarily make for identical people. Yes, their educational background would be same (and if technical skills are crucial, then this may again be a challenge – that all founders know only the one same thing!), but in terms of aptitude or creativity or other characteristics, they could easily be chalk and cheese.

So that is the crucial element. Have the chemistry to work together well, the maturity to respect each other’s points of view and take decisions only and only, in the interest of the venture, but yet be different enough, to bring variety of skills and approaches to the table, for the venture to get the best value!

What is your opinion on this? Are you a part of a co-founders team? What kind of mix you have in your founding team? Would love to know about his.

** This post is also cross posted in my personal blog, Random Musings. **

 

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March 15, 2011 Posted by | Startup | , , , , , | 1 Comment