This article first appeared in City AM.
Britain has always worn its entrepreneurial spirit proudly on its sleeve. It was Adam Smith (not, in fact Napoleon) who coined the term “a nation of shopkeepers” to describe the British in The Wealth of Nations back in 1776. Today, calling us a nation of entrepreneurs is far more accurate.
New research from Octopus reveals that one in three Britons has considered starting their own business. But our findings also showed that four out of ten people would feel brave enough to set up a business if only they could find the right person to partner with. There’s a very good reason for this: being an entrepreneur and starting out on your own is not just a huge risk, but it’s also bloody hard work.
Most one-man-bands hit a brick wall very early, because one person can’t maintain the pace needed to keep the business afloat, or they don’t have the necessary skills and expertise to take a start-up to the next level. Two or more co-founders can help make sure the business maintains momentum and is headed in the right direction.
But the benefits of having a co-founder don’t stop at sharing the workload. The moral support a co-founder can offer shouldn’t be underestimated either. Entrepreneurs invariably spend the first few years of their business struggling and being surrounded by people who tell them that what they’re trying to achieve isn’t possible. Faced with this, entrepreneurs quickly learn to rely on themselves, and their instincts. It becomes them against the world, and that’s ultimately a lonely place to be. Far better to have a co-founder along with you.
Starting a new company is always a risk, and potentially a very costly one. But having a co-founder can give you to confidence that you can do it. Of the entrepreneurs we surveyed, 89% told us that having a co-founder provided the impetus they needed to start their own business. Sometimes, having someone in your corner telling you to go for it is the last great push you need to be brave and back your judgement.
When we set up Octopus back in 2000, we were naïve in many respects. We were leaving behind careers in a very well-respected financial services company. A lot of people thought we were mad. But for me, sharing the risk with co-founders meant having a comfort blanket that kept me feeling secure once the doubts started to creep in. Rather than it being ‘me against the world’ instead, it was ‘us against the world’. That made what we were doing way less lonely, and far less scary.
Going into business with someone is as big a decision as getting married. Only you’ll spend way more time with your co-founder than you will with your life partner. You need to have the kind of relationship where you’re both true to yourself – warts and all. Like all successful marriages, it’s about keeping the lines of communication open. If you don’t have complete trust in one another, it probably won’t work.
Out of all our research, perhaps the most revealing statistic we uncovered was this one. A staggering 78% of solo entrepreneurs told us that a co-founder would have made their business more successful. Entrepreneurs risk harming their business over the long term if they don’t find someone who can help keep moving the business forward.
So, if you’re thinking about launching a start-up, but you’re planning on going it alone, think again. Finding a co-founder to take with you on the journey could be the best business decision you make.
For journalists in their professional capacity only. Issued by Octopus Group November 2018.