This is a guest post by Isaac and Omer Palka, co-founders of Zenly,the first online marketplace for apartment rentals in NYC. We asked them to tell us what it’s like working as brothers and to share some of the lessons they’ve learned thus far.
We often get asked, “What is it like to work together as brothers?” It’s pretty awesome, we tell them. Sure, it may be uncommon, but it’s not unheard of (think Winklevoss twins). Many siblings can’t even get through a family dinner without squabbling, but the dynamic works well for us. The reasons why can be applied to any co-founding team, siblings or not.
You will often hear that investors mostly look at the founding team when considering investing in a startup. But investors are not the only ones who think like this. Everyone from the media, to clients, to your own employees, will look to the founders to form an evaluation of your company.
Why do the individuals behind a company carry more weight than the startup itself? Ideas will evolve, and your company may change direction. But the personalities, experiences, and skills of the founding team can make or break a company, especially in the difficult early stages. That said, anybody considering forming a company should put a lot of thought into who he or she will partner with. We’d like to share what we think are important factors for forming a core team:
Don’t do it alone.
It’s nearly impossible to start a company by yourself. One person does not have all the skills necessary to run all aspects of a company alone. One person also does not have enough time to manage everything. More importantly, an individual will have a hard time mentally sustaining the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. Starting a company is difficult, and the entrepreneur’s life is solitary enough. It is much easier when you have the support system and motivation from a team. Don’t go at it alone – buddy up.
Cover your bases.
The founding team should possess the core competencies that are necessary for your business. Anything that is essential should not be outsourced. If you are trying to build a tech product, make sure you have a developer in the founding team. If you are in the hospitality industry, partner with someone who has expertise and relationships with the hotel industry. We created Zenly as the first online marketplace for apartment rentals, so we made sure to have expertise in tech, finance, and real estate on our team.
You should be very honest with yourselves about what you can and cannot do as a team. Your idea may be great, but your startup will not be in a position to succeed if you are missing key experience in the founding team. That said, you can also hire freelance contractors to help on non-core aspects. For example, you do not necessarily need a marketing person as a founder, unless you are starting a marketing company. The important takeaway is for founders to have complementary skills and experience, rather than overlap. Combined, the co-founders should have all bases covered.
Work with people you are close to.
This sounds contrary to what many people advise, which is to avoid working with family or friends. The truth is, if you are committed to making your company successful, it will be a long and difficult journey. You need to work with people who you enjoy spending time with, and who allow you to completely be yourself. You also need to feel comfortable giving each other honest feedback and challenging each other’s ideas.
As brothers who grew up close with each other, we are able to critique each other and duke it out on small details without making it personal, which we found crucial to making Zenly the best that it can be. This isn’t your school group project where you can ditch your teammate at the end of a semester. This is a long-term relationship that you will need to develop and maintain.
You lower your chances of success if there isn’t complete and total immersion from all founders. Your startup will consume you, and in turn you will need to consume your startup. If one of your founders has a full-time job and can only devote a few hours on the weekend, it will not succeed. If you and your co-founders only meet once a week for coffee to catch up on things, you’re doing it wrong. We still get asked sometimes, “so are you doing this full-time?” Of course we are! And by full-time we don’t mean 9-5. We literally mean all the time. On weekends, over meals, and even when we go out, Zenly is on our minds. There is no other way.
One does not have to look far for historical examples of total immersion and huge success. Sergey and Larry lived together in a garage for months working on Google. Jobs and Woz did too for Apple. Make sure that a high level of commitment is there from all founders.
The points made here aren’t rules of physics of course, but rather guiding principles. The important thing is to be honest with yourself about what does and does not work. If you notice potential issues with your co-founders, address them early on. Startups have a way of bringing out the worst in people during trying times, and early warning signs can explode into serious problems later. Keep tabs on yourself and evaluate where you and your team stand on a regular basis. It isn’t always easy, but who ever said entrepreneurship is?