Balance of Founders

As I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, I spend a significant amount of time on various Q & A sites, mostly on either LinkedIn, or on Answers on Startups. Recently, I’ve noticed a few questions come up where the answers all came down to a very simple point – what is the ideal balance of skills in a set of founders?

Before I can even get into the answer to that, however, there is another question that needs to be answered – what is the ideal number of founders for a company?

Unfortunately, the answer is not simple, and depends heavily on the nature of the business.

As an example, if you make custom jewelery and sell it online, then the ideal number might be one. As an example, my friend Rachel does this, and, as far as I am aware, she is truly a sole proprietor. The limiting factor in her business would be the amount of jewelery she can personally produce or maintain, so adding a second person would only be useful if she had more demand for her jewelery than she could keep up with.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to build a complex piece of electronic equipment, you might need a wide variety of distinct skills just to produce the product. You would also need someone to help you market it, and so your minimum number might be 10.

However, looking at a variety of businesses which have grown to be well-known companies, many of them started off with just 2 or 3 people, and that worked really well for them. Here’s how to determine what those people need to bring into the room:

  • A thinker – someone needs to be thinking about what the product is, what it should do, who might use it.
  • An implementer – someone who can turn the idea into a real product or service, something that actually works.
  • A seller – someone who can take the constructed product or service and find people who will pay for it.

That’s it. There are only three basic components to starting a business – thinking of an idea, converting it to something that can be sold, and selling it. Everything else can wait until you have sales and revenue.

When looking for co-founders, make sure that each one is bringing one of those skills into the company. At the same time, make sure that each person is bringing a skill that you don’t already have. If you think of an idea, and know how to sell it, then the next co-founder needs to be able to implement the idea. Until you have someone who can implement, there’s no need for another salesman.