Enterpreneurship 101: Don’t Look For Your Personality Type In A Co-Founder

“I get scared when I see two women who are both the visionaries, literally the same, trying to start a business.”

Dana Levy, founder of Daily Candy, said this at the WIE Symposium earlier this week. Daily Candy was sold to Comcast in 2008 for $125 million so you may want to listen up to her advice about not picking your personality twin to start a business with, even if you may get along very well. Lauren Leto, founder of Texts from Last Night and CEO and founder of Bnter, echoed Levy’s sentiments. “I got lucky with my co-founders. They are the opposite of me.”

Women-owned or led firms are the fastest growing sector of new venture creation in the U.S., growing at five times the rate of all new firms between 1997 and 2006 – now representing nearly 50% of all privately held businesses. In the past 10 years more than 125 companies with over 200 women co-founders or officers have achieved IPOs or $50 million M&A exits in the U.S. high-tech sector alone.

Angela Nielsen, President and Creative Director of One Lily Inc., said:

“I absolutely agree that a synergistic relationship between women entrepreneurs is more likely to happen if the two are different, rather than mirror images of each other. After running my company for over 10 years, I’ve had a predominantly female staff, and have had the opportunity to work with nearly a dozen different women in a very small work setting. While early on I tended to look for those like me, assuming this was the right step, I actually found there was a spark missing between us, and nobody to balance out my own personality. In more recent years I’ve looked for employees (and then business partners) that were not exactly like me. Where I may have strengths in vision and generating ideas, I found it helpful to have partners whose strengths were planning and execution. Opposites definitely attract in this scenario, and have worked very well for me, providing a very well rounded staff and partnership.”

This rule for not looking for your mirror image in a co-founder also applies to male entrepreneurs and female entrepreneurs working with male co-founders. Karen Snow, partner and director of CFO systems:

“My business partner is male. Other than that obvious difference, we vary on several personality traits. We use personality profiles in our office and those differences are clear, even in the independent profile results. He is an extrovert; a strong marketer; a visionary. I am an analyst; detail oriented; quiet. We work well together and use one another’s strengths to make our business successful.”

“You don’t need another one of you. I was lucky. I hired a Chief Officer who was everything I was not,” said Levy. Gina Bianchini, the former CEO of Ning and the founder of Mightybell, said she would have found it difficult to start any of her businesses on her own but if you have the wrong co-founders it can be detrimental to your business in the extremely tough world of start-ups. “It is all about hustling and people calling your baby ugly.”

Amanda Jones, CEO of Red Button Design:

“My business partner and I couldn’t be more unlike one another and this dissonance is exactly how we keep the business steered in the right direction! The last thing an entrepreneur needs is someone who will agree with them without question. Challenge reinforces the good ideas and illuminates the flaws in the bad ones. Passionate, polarized opinions (when they can be met in the middle with appropriate compromise) are an excellent foundation for a growth businesses we’ve found.”

The differences you need or the lack of differences you don’t need may not come out for a while so you should try to find these things out as early on as possible. Sandie Glass, Founder of Sandstorm Inc., said:

“When my one-man business needed to expand, I was looking more for a complementary skill set rather than a philosophy, but we discovered that I have more of a visionary approach to where the business is heading, and my business partner (Laura) has more of the ‘reality-check’ personality to reign me in when my business-growth ideas stretch a little too far. I would say it’s a good thing to explore this yin-yang in the up-front interview because it provides an important balance.”

Stacya Silverman, President of BeautyAlert!:

“I have a company with my friend from high school and she is the practical one, and I am the “visionary” although it sounds odd to say it that way. It is important to have both, because I would have spent all our profits by now if it weren’t for Alissa!”

Meghan Muntean, Co-Founder of ChickRX, an interactive health community for young women launching in private beta this fall, had a slightly different opinion on what you should look for in a co-founder, personality wise.

“To say that co-founders shouldn’t have similar personalities seems a bit extreme to me.  Much like in a happily married couple, good pairs of co-founders come in all different types of personality combinations, and there is no specific set of qualities each person needs to possess in order for the partnership to be effective.  Rather than looking for personality differences, I think you should focus on finding a co-founder who you respect, who you can trust with your life, whose moral standards match (or exceed) yours, and who helps you make better decisions and build a better product than you could have on your own.  And, given that there will be (many) times when you and your co-founder disagree on things (regardless of how similar your personalities may be), you need to have a dynamic where you feel comfortable candidly having those disagreements and you need the ability to ultimately make better decisions as a result of your collaboration.”

Even silly sitcoms are picking up on the opposite personalities in business trend. On the new show 2 Broke Girls two young women who could not be more different (well except that they are both broke, so technically they could be more different) have plans to open a cupcake business. Kat Dennings plays Max, the one who makes the cupcakes and is more the visionary and Beth Behrs plays Caroline a bankrupt heiress with an MBA from Wharton who knows she can run the business and operation side.

Female entrepreneurs are about to have their big moment. More women are serving as officers of venture-backed companies with successful exits, women-owned businesses are more likely to survive the transition from raw start-up to established company than the average and women-owned or led firms are the fastest growing sector of new venture creation in the U.S so take this advice to the heart.

Photo: CBS’ 2 Broke Girls

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    • Jill Felska

      I’m so glad this article brought light to this subject. My business partner and I got very lucky – we share a value system, and see the world in a similar way, but have completely different personalities. I’m very outgoing and a big idea person. She’s more reserved and detail oriented. These are just two of many examples that prove how much we balance each other. It’s truly been crucial to our success.



    • siva

      wanted only at lifestyel comments,suggessted that information