It's Difficult: 4 Lessons Learned From Co-founding with a Friend

by Jill Foster on December 22, 2009


Learning the founder’s duty:
Recently, I’ve had to face some tough decisions as a founder for a new company that I am nurturning, Just Kite It. Beyond the day-to-day hustle of ensuring that action items are followed-through and executed on efficiently, networking and making connections that will help grow the company, keeping your team motivated and focused, there are those days when tough decisions need to be made in order to keep the upward momentum of the startup. Decisions that at times may result in hurting a friendship that you truly value.

I could have chosen to start Just Kit It on my own.

Image Kite by M. Couto, Creative Commons.

After much consideration and thought, I decided to bring in a co-founder. Back in August, my requirements were simple and generic: equally passionate about kiting. Someone who can strongly complement my skill sets and talent.

After all I started a service business, Mavin Digital Inc. So this new startup should be a piece of cake, I thought. I discovered that there is more to learn.

Lesson #1: I was naive to think that friendship and common passion for a sport and a lifestyle is enough to warrant a strong working relationship.

When the wheels start to turn is when you realize that common passion and friendship is not enough to get you through the potholes of starting a company. You can only prepare so much and risk manage as much. Have 101 conversations on the possible challenges that could occur to keep the fluidity of the creation process. At the end of the day a Founder’s duty is to have clarity and focus on the tasks. Can friendships make it through tough business decisions? It depends. There is no right or wrong answer here. In my opinion, keeping a general open mind and conversation always bears better fruit, yet the Founder’s Duty is keeping the vision in which the company was founded. Keep that flame burning bright up to the finish line.

“Trust is a founder’s biggest challenge. Not capital,” Divya Gugnani, Founder Behind the Burner.

Lesson #2: Is capital enough to earn co-founder status? The clear answer is no.

Obviously, investor equity at the seed round is available to those who invests in the startup. Yet it is a founder’s duty to pick a founding team he/she can trust to have infinite desire to help execute on your idea, transform it into a great product and understands the business you are building. Equity motivated by capital alone could dilute the vision of the startup. Distractions over revenue decisions versus focusing on what is strategically sound for the company could hurt the growth of the organization and performance of the brand.

“Create and deliver a good product first, then business will come,” The Apple story.

Lesson #3: KISS and focus on doing one thing well.

Identifying a problem and crafting a solution that a community would find valuable is not a one shot process. Nurturing an idea and transforming it into a product requires evolution. Sometimes the idea becomes diluted and the problem in which it is intended to solve is lost. We were close to heading down that path for Just Kite It. I was reminded by a fellow Founder and friend, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) and focus on doing one thing well. So back to the drawing board I went.Today, as we draw closer to our alpha release date for phase 1…I’m excited! It won’t be perfect, yet that is the beauty of the startup creation process there will always be room for improvement.

Lesson #4: Don’t build to sell. Build to create a great company.

So far the most invaluable lesson I’ve learned since my journey into creating this. I was at a coffee shop recently meeting someone who I have a high regard for and is one of my Advisory Board members for Mavin Digital, Inc. He stopped me in my tracks when I said, “well in two years I’ll probably sell.” I was greeted with “Don’t think like that. You don’t build a company to flip it. You build a company to create great companies.”

Indeed, why would you want to sell something you love? “Do what you love and never give up,” Bill Tai.


Guest contributor Jessica Valenzuela is the founder and principal of MavinDigital, a 360 degree digital product and marketing company. She is closely associated with Springboard Enterprises and Astia, two exciting organizations that mentor, incubate, and invest in high-growth, women-led companies. Also collaborating regularly with Columbia Univeristy’s Women’s Entrepreneur Network, Jessica can be reached through her blog Mashup and also on Twitter (http://twitter.com/mavindigital).

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