Split the Burden, Share the Success


Split the Burden, Share the Success

By Liz Elting

Wall Street Journal - July 26, 2013

GUEST MENTOR Liz Elting, co-founder and co-CEO of TransPerfect: Twenty years ago, Phil Shawe and I co-founded TransPerfect with a $5,000 credit advance and some big dreams. We knew three things for certain: we would offer unparalleled client service, create an internal meritocracy and stay privately held. But what we didn’t know at the time was how beneficial it was to the company’s ongoing development to have two co-founders and co-CEOs instead of just one person at the helm.

Solo entrepreneurs can struggle with the one-person leadership dynamic, especially once the company is in high-growth mode. That’s because there are literally hundreds of decisions to be made on a daily basis; key ones that must be prioritized and executed quickly. When you are the sole decision-maker, there is no one else to challenge your choices, and no one to present you with an alternative point of view. And that’s when it’s beneficial to have someone else in the room with you – someone who is just as invested in the success of the business as you are.

In order to truly realize the benefits of working with a co-founder, it’s important to be self-aware. Every leader has core strengths and weaknesses. Identifying yours honestly and then working with a co-founder who complements them makes you both exponentially more powerful.  There are some important conversations that need to happen early in the life cycle of the company to make sure you’re both on the same page. For example, how will you work together to create and maintain your company’s culture? Many entrepreneurs fail to address these types of “values” questions because they’re consumed with building the business.

Co-founders need to agree upon the kinds of people to put on the team and the kind of work environment they’re committed to building. Another key question that co-founders must agree upon is the company’s long-term goal: do you both have the same exit strategy in mind? When Phil and I founded TransPerfect, we both knew that this was a business we wanted to run for the long-term. We weren’t interested in going public or selling what we’d built to the highest bidder.

Having a co-founding partner means you reap the rewards of someone who inspires you to aim higher and work harder. It can also mean you have someone who knows your business as well as you do, who can fill in for you when you have too many projects, who can provide a crucial counterpoint on a major opportunity, or who can simply tell you when you are off-base. If it is a true partnership, then your partner realizes all of these same benefits in return.

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