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.