Making your start-up success a reality leverages several things such as: the customer need you are trying to fill, your ability to bring a solution to that need into the market, your expertise, and of course, a little bit of luck. An additional element should not be overlooked: surrounding yourself with really smart, good people, and that begins with choosing an exceptional co-founder.
For me, that came almost naturally through my business school years in my native city, Paris. Through class assignments, projects, many after-hours conversations and debates about building a business, I came to realize that entrepreneurship could be more successful and quite frankly, more satisfying, if I had a partner to share the journey.
I put this theory to work before graduation. With an idea to organize a consumer’s relationships with banks, utility companies, insurance vendors, etc. into an easy to use portal, my co-founder and I launched our first company. We invested hours knocking on doors and talking on the phone. Although we were able to raise a few million euros to seed the company, it was incredibly tough to get large companies to notice us. While this initial venture ultimately failed, it didn’t deter us. Most importantly, it crystalized for us the three characteristics necessary in a good co-founder relationship:
- Shared vision: It is one thing to put a vision on paper; it is entirely another thing to live it day by day, especially when co-founders are separated by time zones, countries and markets. The shared vision should drive every decision you make, from where you locate your offices to what you sell, the people you hire and the need you fill in the market.
- Complementary skillsets: Knowing my strengths was important in founding my company. But understanding where my co-founder’s strengths added value was perhaps even more important. We don’t compete, we collaborate; we respect the insights and perspectives each brings to our partnership. The sum of our insights is greater than what could be achieved individually.
- Common values: I have specific values that guide my life and inform every business decision that I make, ranging from humility to professionalism and rigor. Knowing that my co-founder also uses these values to guide his work is very important to me and to the success of our company.
In 2010, and again in Paris, my co-founder and I started a new venture, this one in the human resources information technology space. We are several years in now, and in 2014 we expanded into the U.S. market. Separated by miles and markets, and battle-tested through years of school and start-ups, the partnership that took root in grad school is growing and thriving. We are building a company that has earned industry accolades and helps more than 250 global companies manage their HR document management and employee service delivery in innovative ways. We have all heard the adage, “It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey that matters.” I am confident that my co-founder and I are leveraging our shared vision, complementary skillsets and common values to shape and grow our company to its fullest potential, and in doing so, addressing the most pressing HR issues our customers face every day.