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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Co-founder can make or break a startup

A co-founder can either make or break a

A co-founder can either make or break a startup company. Credit: iStock

Many entrepreneurs choose to go it alone.

For others, having a co-founder can help spread the risk and add a level of expertise or financial resources they may be lacking.

But just like any partnership, a bad pairing could spell disaster.

“Your co-founder has the ability to directly and massively influence your financial future,” explains Tommi Wolfe, president of The Startup Expert, a Broomfield, Colorado, entrepreneurial consultant. “You’re giving them access to your dreams and finances . . . so you want to be super fussy about who that person is.”

Too often, the biggest reason people get co-founders is because they want courage, she says.

“It’s very lonely and isolating starting a company,” notes Wolfe, adding this shouldn’t be the reason to bring on a co-founder.

Rather, you should seek out a co-founder only if there’s enough of a return on investment for you working together, she says.

In some cases, if you both thought up the idea for the company, then you have little choice in choosing your co-founder. But in many cases the founder may have the idea and lack the finances or skill to launch it solo and so enlists a co-founder.

Andrew Hazen, who has co-founded half a dozen companies over the past decade, says he generally looks for a co-founderwho can assist in areas where he’s lacking or doesn’t have expertise or industry resources.

For instance, he had the idea and teamed up with Adam Rosner of Bagel Boss as his co-founder to launch, which ships 4,000 bagels monthly across the United States, he says.

“I didn’t have to go out and essentially build a bagel shop,” says Hazen, noting that aligning with Rosner worked out so well because he already had the product and infrastructure in place.

He says you have to think long-term when choosing a co-founder.

“It’s like a marriage,” says Hazen, also co-founder of Angel Dough Ventures, a Hicksville-based early-stage seed fund and “You spend more time with your co-founder than typically your spouse.”

That’s why it pays to discuss vision ahead of time, says Jeff Levy, president of Janusian Insights, a Plainview leadership and strategy consulting firm.

Specifically, he says: “What are the long-term aspirations of each individual and do they align?” “What is their strategy for winning in the market and are they on the same page with this?”

Also discuss what-if scenarios, Levy suggests. For example: What if someone wanted to buy you both out in two years?

In addition, discuss individual roles and responsibilities for each person so you don’t step on each other’s toes, he says.

That’s what Meredith Greenberg and Melissa Benbasset did early on when starting Jericho-based, which sells a clothing accessory that fills in the space between a child’s leggings and sneakers.

Greenberg focuses more on marketing and the back office, while Melissa is more on the sales end.

They knew each other before launching the company, which they believe helps.

“We knew we get along very well,” Benbasset says. “When you go into something with someone you don’t know at all, you never know what you’re going to get.”

They also keep an open mind, which is important, Greenberg says, and “we take into account each other’s opinions.”

If you have no prior relationship with your co-founder, you might have a “try before you buy” scenario, Wolfe says. Perhaps even hire the person before bringing her on as a co-founder, or work with her in some capacity.

“Before you rush off and launch the business, you want to date first,” Levy quips.

Fast Fact:


Percentage of startups that fail due to co-founder conflict


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