What Makes an Enduring Founding Team?

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My co-founder for launching 500 Startups Japan is Yohei. We like to joke sometimes that we are essentially exact opposites.

  • Yohei is a Japanese that can speak English. I am an American that can speak Japanese.
  • I care a lot about practicality and speed of execution. Yohei cares more about detail and precision.  
  • I trust Yohei with all things finance. He trusts me with all things management.
  • I tend to be a stronger negotiator. Yohei tends to be more diplomatic. Both are useful, depending on the situation.
  • I am a morning person. He is a night owl. I basically wake up when Yohei goes to bed (so we can support both our founders and LPs 24 hours a day!).
  • When we fly, I prefer window seat. He prefers aisle seat.
  • Yohei loves attending and speaking at events. I honestly get tired of them and prefer meeting one-on-one or in small groups.
  • I love writing. Yohei takes forever just to write a short message on a birthday card.

I could go on, but the point is that we are very different people. However, that difference is what makes us a great team. There is hardly any overlap between us. We are complementary in almost every way.

Overlap is something you want to avoid in founding teams because it can create points of friction. More specifically, ideally you should have no overlapping core strengths, while having a deep respect for the other’s ability in theirs. I say “core” because it is inevitable to have some overlapping strengths, but a core strength is something in which you particularly excel. When something is your core strength, you tend to have absolute confidence in your own judgement. And when two people who are extremely confident about their competency in a certain area clash, it is very hard to find common ground without a Pyrrhic victory. One side can feel slighted, and this emotional toll will eventually compound and damage the relationship. Both sides don’t want that.

What you should have though, is the same values. You should have the same standards of what is important in life and what is right and wrong. You should have the same ultimate mission. That way, you’ll be able to adapt together and work cohesively in the same direction. Only then will 1 + 1 truly equal 3.   

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