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The Habits of Successful Scale-Ups: Why Co-Founders Create Better Companies

Thursday 17 August 2017

When you’re starting up a business, there are a thousand and one things to think about.

Having co-founders to help you in that process can be a huge boost, helping to lighten the load and keep each other enthused, but for other reasons too.

It can be really tough to get good people to come and work for you in the early days. Even though working for a start-up is more attractive than ever, it’s still a relatively risky prospect for prospective recruits.

You’re an unknown quantity in so many ways: in terms of whether the business will survive over the long term, the nature of the role itself (invariably broad and changeable in start-ups), whether there will be prospects for progression in the business, and so on.

So how can it help to have co-founders?

First of all, it’s a ready-made team. You can get the business further along before you need to start recruiting. The more you’ve proved success, the less risky it is for those who join you. And your company culture will be more apparent to potential recruits – they can get a sense of what it will be like to work for the business.

All of these things: culture, de-risking, and proven success, will help when you’re recruiting. It’s still not easy to get the people you need, but it’s a lot easier than doing it on your own right at the start.

Having multiple co-founders in a start-up is statistically linked to greater financial returns and likelihood of success – in part due to factors such as this. Examples abound: Google’s partnership of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs at Apple, Innocent’s three co-founders, Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright. Each person brings something unique to the table, you have a ready-made team (albeit in embryonic form), rather than a one-man band.

There’s a cautionary note here as well though. Sometimes, as the business grows, differences appear between co-founders, where some individuals take on more leadership roles, and others evolve into ‘employee’ type roles with less responsibility. It doesn’t happen in every case, but when it does, it can create a sense of resentment.

So, valuable as it can be to have co-founders, it’s also useful to continually review that relationship to see whether everyone’s happy.

Of course, not everyone has the choice of starting up with others. But in that case, it’s important to bear in mind that the employees you can attract with just one person in the business are unlikely to be the people who you necessarily need in the business later on – something I’ll look at in my next blog.

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