There’s a reason why so many successful businesses are run by siblings (from Moss Bros to Mark & Randi Zuckerberg), couples (Mr. & Mrs. Smith), or long-time friends. Starting up a company is not dissimilar to setting up home and starting a family and trust is the cornerstone of a strong co-founder relationship.
If you’re squabbling on day one over which name to register with Companies House, you’re unlikely to see eye to eye when it comes to allocating share options, deciding where to deploy your scant resources and drafting disciplinary policies.
You’ll save precious time and have more confidence in the outcomes if you’re decision making with co-founders that share your values and vision for the company; co-founders that trust in your integrity; co-founders you can trust to have your back when the going gets tough.
For sure, the cash comes in useful, but in the early days it’s the market feedback that’s priceless.
There’s no point working tirelessly to perfect a pre-launch product unless you have demonstrable proof that it meets a need and has a realizable value in the marketplace. The sooner you get your product out to market, the sooner you’ll find out whether it has any legs. If it doesn’t, at least you’ve failed fast.
If it does, then you’ll benefit from having real customers making suggestions as to how you can improve the offering, iterate the product, or solve a larger problem.
Being a tight-knit group of founders, all huddled round the same bank of desks, does have its advantages. Each person knows what the other is working on and as a result it’s fairly simple to act in concert.
As the team grows and becomes more dispersed, misunderstandings and gaps in knowledge can creep in. Then, it’s worth investing the time, energy and cash to get robust communications mechanisms and processes in place early on while you’re all still on speaking terms.
Prepare to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. You’ll be knocking yourself out to please your first few clients and if things go well, you’ll be knocking yourself out to please the crowds that follow. Expectations will be high and you’ll be running very fast up a vertiginous learning curve. If your budgets are constrained you may well be playing multiple roles at once. Your technology and operational processes will need to scale. So will your team.
Each stage of growth will bring new problems to solve and at times you’ll feel consumed by growing pains. That’s OK, these are good problems to have. They’re the sign of a fast growing company on the road to success.
The Kitchen Table
This is the most important piece of office furniture you will ever buy. Informal and unimposing, the kitchen table is the perfect place for a team to swap ideas, share anxieties and spend time building friendships with their peers. Free breakfasts, bottomless coffee, herbal teas and sweet treats throughout the week will help to make sure that your team makes the most of the kitchen – and each other!
If I had to name the secret ingredient in a successful start-up I guess it would be the same as it is in kitchens around the world: make something that you like to eat. Invite like-minded founders to join the party and have a passion for the product that you’re building. That way, the hard work will feel like fun and no matter what the end result, you’ve got an unforgettable experience in the making.
Sarah Wood is co-founder and co-CEO of video ad tech company Unruly, where she ensures the company delivers the most awesome social video campaigns on the planet.
Unruly has worked with 90% of Ad Age 100 brands, has 15 offices and employs 200 people.Unruly was acquired by News Corp in September 2015.
Sarah was voted one of 15 Women to Watch in Tech by Inc., one of 10 London-Based Entrepreneurs to Watch by Forbes and #4 in Digital Spy’s Top 10 Women in Tech. She is a member of Tech City’s Entrepreneur Advisory Panel and is a Technology Ambassador for London.