Eugene Goh and Zanyu Ang are the co-founders of TalentKraft, a Singapore-based strategy consultancy that assists clients in building better teams through a combination of consulting and training. Goh is a former civil servant turned entrepreneur, while Ang is an auditor who discovered a taste for the startup life.
There has been almost unanimous agreement among the founders we spoke to that having the right co-founder is the most significant determinant of the startup’s success (and founder sanity). Sometimes, fate takes care of your co-founder search.
Eugene and I were both working at another HR tech startup in 2017, and so we had a whole year to see how well we would work together as future co-founders. Later on, Eugene left the company with plans to start his own venture. One day, on the way to lunch, we spoke about plans for a new business, and well, the rest is history.
Connecting on a personal level for a better partnership
Looking back, here are some thoughts on why our partnership works so well.
First, we each had different skills and experiences. But we resisted the temptation to look for others just like us, and instead, we brought in individuals who would complement our skill sets and compensate for our weaknesses. Complementary skill sets, personalities, and experiences are much more valuable than just relying on formal qualifications.
We were also well-aligned on the big picture and had a clear understanding of what we wanted TalentKraft to do—and equally important, not do. We shared similar values, which translates into how we work and the way we built the business.
These factors, as well as spending the past year working together, helped us to establish trust. This made it possible for us to commit to investing time and money (and blood, sweat, and tears) into building something together, despite the uncertainty in the early days.
It is critical to focus on things that can’t be changed—personality, values, and motivations—and make sure that these match before embarking on a partnership. Other things, such as skills or capabilities, can be honed over time. That said, you should also have a healthy personal and working relationship with your co-founder.
During the first three months of starting TalentKraft, we spoke to each other daily—in the office, at lunch, and on the way to meetings. It still amazes me that we continue to find things to talk about, and we still learn something new about each other daily.
Learning to deal with disagreements as co-founders
There will inevitably be friction points. No relationship is perfect, especially not in the high-stress crucible of starting a business. Yet, what matters is how co-founders can manage potential conflicts and continue to drive the business forward.
One common friction point is the perception of unequal workloads. We’ve tried and tested many processes and found that to mitigate this issue, splitting responsibilities rather than workload, (which can fluctuate over time) works best. We’ve also tried to inculcate the mindset that a person’s value is not determined by their time spent at work.
A related issue is the perception of unequal contributions, where some co-founders seem to create more value for the company than others.
Ultimately, it is crucial to recognize that co-founders bring different things to the table, and it is the combined capabilities and contributions that deliver the desired outcomes. We have had conversations with other potential partners who took a contrary view of recognizing and rewarding contributions. These differences proved so irreconcilable that we eventually stepped away from the partnership.
Finally, there will be moments when co-founders will disagree on important decisions, such as whether to hire a candidate or focus on a determined business segment. Rather than revert to voting based on shareholdings, which can create adversarial mindsets, open communication, and constant discussions should be baked into how the founding team operates.
In our case, we are driven by facts and numbers. We also try to be aware of emotions creeping in and clouding our decision-making. This has allowed us to debate ideas more objectively, without feeling like we are under personal attack. Of course, if there is an impasse, someone within the team will need to assert authority to decide, but this should ideally be based on merit. A little give-and-take also helps.
The rest of the team matters too
Besides the co-founders, the formation of your team from the get-go is also critical.
Hiring the right team members is almost as important as finding the right co-founder. Attracting and retaining the right people early on, and growing and scaling the team efficiently over time are challenges that founders cannot afford to neglect.
No matter the business idea, people are one of the most critical determinants of success for a company.