It can happen quickly: You meet someone you click with, talk about your passions and goals. Before you know it, you’re making big plans to start a business together.
Unfortunately, such scenarios can unravel into a nightmare fast.
The story behind Zipcar—the car-sharing service bought by Avis for $491 million in 2013—should serve as a cautionary tale about starting a business too quickly with someone you recently met. Co-founders Antje Danielson and Robin Chase became friends on a Cambridge, Massachusetts playground as their kids played together in the summer of 1999. They talked about their interest in entrepreneurship and conscious consumerism and within a few months Danielson shared her hopes to start a car-sharing service, according to a fascinating profile on The Verge. The two had their first business meeting a few short days later, and by May 2000, the first Zipcar was on the road.
Soon after the company got off the ground, however, a rift grew between the two founders. Danielson kept her job at Harvard, meaning she couldn’t work full-time on Zipcar. Chase the became the company president and more highly involved with day-to-day decision-making.
In January 2001, Chase fired Danielson after a board meeting. Chase was fired by the board herself two years later after a “fruitless round of funding.”
Such co-founder fallouts aren’t so rare. I recently wrote about Mission Motorcycles, a San Francisco-based startup that sells high-performance electric motorcycles. Vincent Ip was brought on board by co-founder Mark Seeger when the company started in May 2013. By November 2013, however, Ip was kicked out of the company. An ensuing lawsuit claims that Ip had become violent toward his co-founders and acted unprofessionally.
How can you avoid such co-founder nightmares?
TechRepublic recently featured some useful tips for how to choose your business partners when forming a startup.
- Go with someone you know well. It doesn’t have to be a childhood friend, but it should be someone you’ve had an interpersonal relationship with for a while before starting the business.
- Seek complementary skills and similar styles. Your co-founder should have different skills from you because there’s little value in having co-founders who both know the exact same things. But you also want someone who has a similar working style, as that will likely affect how well you work together. “A morning person needs a morning person, an extrovert needs another extrovert, and so on,” TechRepublic advises.
- Find someone with grit. Outside investors want to see co-founders that recognize when an approach isn’t work and are nimble and flexible enough to change course. Instead of a yes-person, you want someone willing to point out shortcomings and eager to find ways to improve on them—in an agreeable way, of course.
Read more articles on starting a business.
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