Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

When it comes to starting a business, two is the perfect number

David Ciccarelli is CEO and founder of Voices.com

While it can be pleasing to the ego to think that you can build an empire using nothing but your own two hands, don't be fooled. No one reaches success alone.

The entrepreneurs who do "make it" are the ones who harness the power of others. Community is key, and most people are savvy enough to realize this.

Story continues below advertisement

And here's the secret that a lot of people miss out on: Businesses that have co-founders who are fundamentally different from one another, tend to reap the greatest rewards of all.

Two is the magic number

Being the sole person at the top has allure. You get the luxury of consulting others, but at the end of the day, you are the only one who can make a decision final.

However, there is much more danger posed by being alone than there is being in a partnership. This is because another entrepreneurial trait is the tendency to fall in love with your own ideas. Without meaning to, business owners become biased, and bias means that you're operating with blinders on.

Some entrepreneurs simply want to have a "tie-breaker" on board to help them through difficult decisions, so they adjust their structure to include three business owners. Simply stated, this is too many cooks in the kitchen without good reason.

If both co-founders aren't 100 per cent on board with an idea, then it doesn't move forward.

For example, for a long time, I wanted to purchase a heritage property as the site for our new office. However, my own co-founder and wife, Stephanie, had a gut feeling against the idea. And although she couldn't articulate exactly why the move would be a bad one, she didn't believe it would be beneficial – and that was enough.

Story continues below advertisement

We kept looking and, as a result, I was forced to dream bigger. Now, we're located in a state-of-the-art, 45,000-square-foot office, which is technically the largest single floor plate in our city of London, Ont. We're immensely proud of how the project turned out and looking back, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Complementary strengths

In order to work best, co-founders should have a baseline understanding of each other's personalities. This can be accomplished through taking a personality test, like Myers-Briggs. Not only will this help you understand your different personality traits, it will also help you get to the heart of what motivates the other and how you can best communicate.

Here are a few examples of co-founder combinations that illustrate how this works:

Introvert and extrovert

Having both of these personality types in a founding team allows for thoughtful planning and spontaneity to arise. Often, people mistake introversion for being quiet or wanting to be alone. Rather, as an introvert myself, I've discovered that it's more accurate to say that introverts get energy by being alone. This alone time allows the introvert to recharge, self-motivate and even come up with the next great idea.

Story continues below advertisement

On the flip side, extroverts are not merely outgoing people; they are outgoing because they get energy from being around other people. Stephanie is wonderful at being in a crowd, walking the conference floor, being on a panel and otherwise interacting with groups of people for hours on end. It's an admirable trait.

The result is that I have clearly become the internally focused leader, while she is externally focused. My energy is lifted by building corporate culture, holding one-on-one meetings and exploring how our company can better boost employees' morale. Meanwhile, Stephanie is all about getting in front of customers, elevating the company brand in the public eye and engaging with people en masse.

It becomes a relief to know someone else is not only capable but passionate about building the business from a different approach.

Knowing that someone has this other side of the picture in mind can help you move forward with all considerations on the table.

Technical and creative

The complement of a technical co-founder and a creative co-founder is also beneficial. The technical co-founder will be more inclined to develop the master plan, then plan B, C, and D, while the creative is more adaptable to changes and can give reassurance that so long as we continue moving forward together, being united along the way, the best outcome will be achieved.

From business planning to product development, the technical skills only tell half the story – and, frankly, one that isn't that interesting. It's the artist who breathes life into the story, developing brand narratives, establishing values and guiding principles that decisions are weighed against.

In essence, the technical mind is geared toward how to accomplish the next phase, while the creative mind is able to see the big picture and communicate why it is important – and to whom.

In short, there is a role for both technical and creative people in business, but it becomes your responsibility as co-founders to gain clarity on just what those roles are.

Decisive and contemplative

In addition to having different areas of focus and strengths, co-founders may also find that they operate at different speeds. Another way to think of this is like the fable of the tortoise and the hare.

As the hare, once a path to apparent victory opens up in business, it's tempting to sprint forward, full steam ahead. Having a tortoise by your side means that ideas you see as a slam dunk will be subject to more thorough thought.

On the flip side, those who are prone to contemplate ideas for an exorbitant amount of time may find that they receive a little boost to their timeline, thanks to the elevated excitement of their partner.

Each viewpoint has its own advantages and disadvantages, but in the end, what ends up happening is that each party benefits from the push and pull of the other.

Where can you begin?

The place to start is really by understanding the person who is running the company with you: how they like to communicate, what energizes them, how they make decisions and what speed they operate at.

In your entrepreneurial journey, if you're able to find great partners in the business development community and engaging mentors to provide guidance, you too will discover that no matter how your co-founder partnership takes shape, two people working together toward a common goal is indeed better than one.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

Report an error
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.