Octopus Group Reading time: 5 mins

Entrepreneurs share their experience of life as a co-founder

19 Nov 2018

New research from Octopus revealed that more businesses would be launched if people could find the right business partner to do it with. We asked a number of entrepreneurs to tell why their start-up has blossomed thanks to having a co-founder.

Our latest research reveals that one in three (33%) Britons have considered becoming an entrepreneur, while a higher proportion (40%) agreed that having a co-founder would allow them to take the leap and start a business.

Not only do co-founders make it easier to start a business, but they are also seen as making a material difference to the future success of the company. Almost 9 in 10 (87%) entrepreneurs with co-founded businesses said that having one has made their business more successful. But the big question behind the numbers is why? We believe that successful co-founders share a number of positive traits. And the entrepreneurs we spoke to seemed to agree.

Sharing a work ethic

Tom Valentine, the co-founder of Secret Escapes, believes that having a co-founder helps a business leader to share the workload. But it’s important that co-founders have a similar work ethic:

“Successfully scaling a company isn’t easy, but the benefits of being co-founded have increased over time. In the last eight years being able to share the load has been invaluable. More businesses would probably be set up if people knew where to find suitable co-founders. Early-stage funding, such as the type provided by Octopus Ventures, is a very important lever to grow the pool of potential co-founders.”

Combining skill sets

Not only do co-founders make it easier to start a business, but they are also seen as making a material difference to the future success of the company. Almost 9 in 10 (87%) entrepreneurs with co-founded businesses said that having a co-founder on board has made their business more successful.

Freddie Blackett, CEO and co-founder of Patch, thinks that it’s vital for co-founders to have different skill sets, which when used in combination help the business to succeed.

“It was clear that for Patch to succeed it was going to have to solve two fundamental challenges. One was brand and marketing while the other was operations and delivery. Having a co-founder has allowed each of us to tackle these individually, while improving our strengths. It’s fair to say that without my co-founder Ed Barrow we’d have had no chance of success, nor would Patch have been able to scale as well and as quickly as we have.”

Tom Valentine of Secret Escapes agrees: “Finding the right co-founder can be fundamental to the success of your start-up. It made Secret Escapes possible because we each brought essential complementary skills and industry knowledge to the table, as well as a strong shared commitment.”

Offering moral support

When it comes to realising the potential of a start-up, sharing the burden with someone can make all the difference. Of the entrepreneurs we surveyed, 37% told us that moral support is the single biggest benefit of having a co-founder.

Alex Petrides is the co-founder of allplants. He believes that having a supportive co-founder in place can lay strong foundations for the business as it grows. “Founders often suffer from anxiety and imposter syndrome, so finding that special person to start a business with is important. It’s also very difficult. The real difference in having a co-founder is the confidence boost, moral support and having someone to talk to. As the company grows and your crazy idea takes off, you’re laying the tracks while driving the train – so the right support is key.”

The importance of resilience

While acknowledging the huge benefits of having a co-founder, the strains of starting a business were also clear when entrepreneurs were asked about stress. Almost two in five entrepreneurs (39%) said that the relationship with their co-founder was more stressful than with their life partner, while slightly fewer said it was equally stressful (37%). Only 23% said it was less stressful.

Tessa Cook is the co-founder of OLIO. She recognises some of the difficulties that all business owners face: “Having a co-founder is like having a superpower. We couldn’t imagine going on the exciting but daunting journey of launching a business without one. In many ways, we’re like peas in a pod, but in other ways, we’re incredibly different. However, together we’re definitely stronger.

“Some people, including our partners, didn’t always see OLIO’s potential, so having a co-founder when everyone’s doubting you makes you feel slightly less crazy! Alone we probably couldn’t solve the problem of food waste, but together we most definitely can.”

Do they share your vision for the business?

It goes without saying that co-founders should share the vision for the business, even if their ideas on how to get there are slightly different. Those who are currently considering starting a business in the near future were even more positive about the impact a co-founder could make. Seven in ten (70%) prospective entrepreneurs agreed that a co-founder would allow them to take the leap and set up their own business.

Katie Massie-Taylor, co-founder of Mush remembers a shared vision for the business right from the beginning: “Mush was born when we struck up a conversation in a rainy playground, both looking after two small kids. We had separately considered starting our own businesses – but helping new mothers tackle the loneliness we had felt became a shared mission. Building a successful company as a duo turned out to be way more fun that we could have hoped.

“We brought complementary skills to the table and had each other for moral support. But above all, we shared the same values and were twice as effective at getting things done. We probably rely on each other more than we do our husbands in day to day life now.”

It’s still hard to find a co-founder

According to our research, not knowing where to find a business partner could be a significant barrier to starting a business. One in three (34%) people surveyed said they wouldn’t know where to look for a co-founder, while 29% said they would try family and friends first (29%).

According to those entrepreneurs who have already set up a business, the most common way of meeting a co-founder was through friends or family (29%), followed by business connection apps (23%) such as LinkedIn, and connections from work (17%).

We thought it would be a good idea to leave the last word to Chris Hulatt, co-founder of Octopus: “The importance of entrepreneurship in driving UK economic growth is well known. Our research reveals that there are thousands of potential entrepreneurs out there in need of someone to help them take the plunge and start their own business. But not everyone is lucky enough to meet that person through their existing network.

“We can and should do more to encourage prospective entrepreneurs to come together and discuss ideas and ambitions. That’s when businesses are born.”