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Clair Challenor-Chadwick set up her PR company with her sister Ann and is brutally honest about the difficulties of sharing the business. “There is a lot of conflict,” Clair says. “It generally happens on a Monday. We do shout at each other.”

She says the benefits of having a co-founder far outweigh the negatives. “We have completely different skill sets. We thrive on our different skills and complement each other very well.”

Helena Habdija, portfolio manager at the Dotforge tech accelerator in Manchester, says this is one of the most important aspects of having more than one founder. “The first benefit is definitely more people, more skills; especially if those skills are complementary.”

Paul Graham, the entrepreneur’s guru and co-founder of Y Combinator, has even listed being a solo founder as the number one mistake that causes startups to fail. His argument is that it’s a vote of no confidence because the founder could not persuade anyone to start the company with them.

In the same way, the process of finding a co-founder can help entrepreneurs refine and gain confidence in their business. Helena says: “You need to sell your idea. If you’re able to get someone to want to go with you on that journey, to believe in your idea, then you know that you have something.”

Solo founders and decision making

Many investors will only consider funding teams consisting of two or more. Helena says that is because solo founders present a greater risk. “A lot of ideas will not work. Even if it is a good idea, there is no guarantee that the market will not shift. If the market shifts and you have a team of people that are dedicated to the goals, they will know that they need to pivot.”

She has worked with solo founders in the past. “One of the hardest things for some of them was making decisions. You have five to ten choices, but you need to take one and this is your decision, no one else’s. If you don’t have someone to listen, to get you thinking in a different way, it’s hard to make those decisions.”

Two heads are better than one

Launching a startup is a lonely business. Helena says: “Not everyone understands why you are leaving everything else behind and starting this. Having someone there that understands that is really important.”

She says co-founders can provide emotional support to one another through the difficult early stages. “It’s really good to have someone that can lift you up when you’re down and give you a bit of strength and push when you need it.”

Clair agrees, saying she and her sister do lean on one another. “We always have each other’s backs.” They share the business 50/50 and make joint decisions about its direction. Clair says: “I’m more of a risk taker and Ann is not, so that can lead to frustration. That’s a good balancing act anyway. We have a middle ground.”

She says it helps that they are sisters. “We can talk to each other in a way that perhaps you wouldn’t talk to another colleague.” Those family ties keep the business together. Clair says: “If you are working with someone who is a colleague, then there is that capacity to fall out. Because we’re family, we’re tighter.”

That said, starting a business with a colleague could mean that together you have a deep knowledge of the industry. And you already know what it’s like to work together. Michele Langenbrinck and Claudia Cardozo de Biasi opened their shoe shop Cecilia Quinn in 2015, after working together at a fashion house in Mayfair. “I’ve always thought how lucky we are to have met each other. It started as a professional relationship and friendship came afterwards,” says Claudia.

Michele and Claudia stand outside their shop
Michele Langenbrinck and Claudia Cardozo de Biasi, co-founders of the shoe shop Cecilia Quinn

They find that two-way conversations make decision making easier. “It’s great to have the two of us. When you’re running a business, there will be very tough days, lots of challenges and lots of decisions to make. But we can talk everything through together,” says Michele. “We have a mutual respect for each other and we both have strong work ethics,” adds Claudia.

Both Michele and Claudia grew up outside the UK and came to London to pursue careers in Fashion. Michele is from South Africa and Claudia is from Brazil with Italian heritage. “It was a dream come true to go to Italy and see the shoes and materials the small factories had to offer,” says Claudia. “We both have a passion for fashion. Often, shoes are stylish but not comfortable, or comfortable but not stylish. We source and sell shoes that are both stylish and comfortable, available in sizes two to nine - something many women struggle to find.”

Disharmony can lead to failure

Disharmony among co-founders is among the top reasons that startups fail. Even co-founders who agree on everything at the start may find they disagree on the best way to grow the business.

Helena says, at that point, it may be best for one of the founders to step aside. “If you don’t want to be going in the same direction, if you don’t feel as motivated to keep going because things in your life change, sometimes it’s better to say, ’I’m not going to do this anymore’.”

That is when good communication is absolutely crucial. Helena says: “If you can communicate openly then you will find a solution and it doesn’t have to mean that the startup folds.”

Drawing up contracts early on can save trouble further down the line. Helena says a lot of startup founders fall into the trap of thinking they do not need such things when starting a business with their best friends, or family members. “No matter what your relationship now, you don’t know what is going to happen, so putting legal agreements there is really important.”

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