If cofounders are such a pain, why do you really need them?

By Praveen Suthrum

Just the other day, my cofounder and I argued before getting on a conference call. From the pauses, I could tell he was frustrated with me. I heard myself say, ‘we never know where the call can lead to, but let us throw caution to the wind and let us be open.’

What followed was I continued unabated with a barrage of grouses. Once that got over, we immediately got on the call, but despite our arguments a minute ago, we were singing the same tune for the other side.

The call turned out annoyingly as he had anticipated. He was more right. And I was more wrong. That’s what I love about working with my cofounder. He brings balance to my madness.

We met years ago as MBA students and I first recall seeing him in our student lounge with other students. He would always be wearing a hat, grinning widely. Word eventually got around that I was planning to start a business in healthcare and a friend suggested that I speak to a doctor who was in the evening MBA program. I reached out and he introduced my future cofounder.

We ended up taking the same entrepreneurship courses and friends would joke that we were holding board meetings during class. Soon we started up in the student lounge and there he built our first website. Eventually we shifted to a real office and 14 years later we continue to run our business in US and India.

How do cofounders help?

Entrepreneurship is a long and lonely journey. More people will say ‘no’ to you than ‘yes’ and if you survive it will be on top of a pile of failures. Some of those can disillusion you. Cofounders can help you stay put during these lows as they share the journey with you and somehow make the ride a bit easier. Even fun.

Cofounders can bring balance to your personality and thinking and organizations often begin to look like their founders. When I look around at my team, I see all my strengths and weaknesses in them and a cofounder who thinks differently from you can be invaluable in reaching more well-rounded decisions.

Cofounders can contribute skills that you do not have. One of my biggest mental bottlenecks for starting up had to do with logistics. I just simply did not know how to register a company in the US and there was this resistance to even research and find out. Years later, I still have no idea or patience or skills or experience to deal with many things that go into running a company.

Cofounders can give you time to breathe. Building an organization is emotionally and mentally taxing and it requires an infinite supply of energy and enthusiasm to fight the odds against you. I take time away by trekking in the mountains every year and for a few days, I am completely disconnected. With my cofounder around, I can breathe more easily during my time away.

When does it not work?

Cofounders can become a pain when individual interests or politics take center stage. When you cannot speak your mind to the other and when you feel you are doing all the work or questioning the value of the other. It can also happen when you use others on the team as crutches to convey your distress or when there’s space for deceit or when there is lack of ownership to do whatever needs to be done. Such dissonance takes a toll on the team. It confuses everyone and the organization invariably suffers. Your clients can smell your fight.

Remember that it’s primarily work that brought you together. That’s the glue. Make that the priority over other personal travails that you have.

How to find cofounders? And what to look for in them?

I have always found that when you announce your intentions, people will join you on your journey. A moving train going somewhere is more appealing than the one that’s going nowhere.

Go where the fishes congregate. It can be conferences, workshops, educational meetings, online courses and when there, share more openly about your plans. If you are looking for a cofounder, say so.

Ask these questions when gauging the fit of your cofounders:

1) Do your core values align? From ethics to broader vision of the industry.

2) In case of conflict, would this person prioritize the team or herself?

3) Can you trust this person with money and other key areas of business?

4) Would you get your own space to function?

5) Is he/she better than you in more than one aspect?

6) Would you have to run behind him/her to get work done?

7) If you had to work together for the next decade, would you do it?

8) Can you simply hang out and have fun?

Once my cofounder told me the story of a twisted French movie. It must have been after a long, tiring day at a medical conference. As usual, we would have built the booth, stood for hours demo’ing, selling, hustling for business.

A few months later I watched that movie. It was so weird that I loved it and I found myself thinking, “oh he’s cool, weird and human too.” Somehow it made me glad we worked together.

The writer is the president and cofounder of NextServices. Get his free e-book: Healthcare Footprint Finder, a simple guide to finding your market, selling your products, and growing your business.