This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Unfair Advantage" by Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Why shouldn’t you start a business by yourself? What kind of partners should you look for?
When it comes to starting a new business, entrepreneurs Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba advise against going it alone. They explain why you need partners and what kind of people you should add to your team. They say you should fill three roles: an innovator, a promoter, and a specialist.
Keep reading for Ali and Kubba’s advice on how to build a startup team.
Building a Startup Team
Once you know which idea you’re going to pursue, Ali and Kubba say it’s important to recruit business partners who can contribute valuable skills and insights to your startup. While it’s possible to succeed on your own, the authors advise against it. You must learn how to build a startup team because you need partners. Why? The demands of launching a startup are intense, and business partners can ease the emotional burden and share the workload. Also, business partners can provide unfair advantages that you lack, making your road to success much smoother. For example, maybe you have a brilliant idea for a new restaurant and you’re exceptional at marketing, but you’re a terrible cook. In that case, you’ll likely need to find a partner with cooking expertise.
(Shortform note: Not everyone agrees with Ali and Kubba that business partners are a good idea. Instead, some entrepreneurs recommend that you hire people who have the skills and resources you lack, offering them an hourly wage, a salary, and/or profit sharing, thereby protecting your position as the sole decision maker. Why? They say bad partnerships are common and can be disastrous—and ultimately aren’t worth the risk. One frequent source of conflict is resentment that surfaces when one partner puts in more work than others. Also, partners sometimes double-cross each other to get ahead. For example, two partners might team up to vote out the third, leaving the ousted partner with nothing.)
How many partners do you need? According to Ali and Kubba, two or three is usually ideal. They say you need to fill three roles: an innovator, a promoter, and a specialist, and one person can fill more than a single role. First, the innovator casts a lofty vision and reinforces a worthy purpose for the business venture. Second, the promoter functions as the face of the business, interacting with customers and potential investors to “pitch” the business, get feedback, and secure support. Third, the specialist provides the knowledge and skills needed to build a reliable product.
(Shortform note: If you decide to pursue business partners as Ali and Kubba suggest, most experts who endorse this approach also recommend two or three partners at most. They say investors seldom fund single-founder startups because they consider multiple co-founder ventures to be more credible and robust. This may be because they know that it’s unlikely that any founder will be an effective innovator, promoter, and specialist. Additionally, three co-founders may be better than two because you’ll always have a tiebreaker vote if you end up deadlocked on a particular issue. However, more than three partners slows down your decision-making process, which can hamper business growth.)
When you’re ready to recruit business partners, choose with extreme care, as this is one of the most critical decisions you’ll make. As Ali and Kubba caution, conflict between business partners is one of the primary sources of startup failure. Therefore, trust is essential, and it doesn’t happen overnight. If you already know and trust your prospective partners, it’ll make your working relationship easier from the start.
|How to Handle (and Prevent) Conflicts Among Co-Founders|
Ali and Kubba accurately state that conflict between business partners is a common cause of startup failures. According to research, 65% of high-potential startups fail due to conflict among co-founders. These conflicts emerge when co-founders clash around their values, ideals, visions, and strategies. No matter how connected and aligned you may initially feel with your co-founders, business leaders say you can’t realistically sustain alignment across all the critical aspects of the business, as you each bring unique perspectives and experiences to the startup.
However, you can take steps to identify and resolve potential conflict before it escalates. Business leaders recommend these steps:
Have a conversation about values and motivation. Discuss what’s inspiring each of you to take on this business opportunity, and share values that are important to you. For example, is being bold and taking risks more important to you than making a positive difference for others? Talking openly about these factors will increase empathy and promote stronger bonds.
Play the “what if” game. Talk through scenarios that you might encounter as your startup grows. For example, have each person answer questions such as “What if an investor offers us $10 million? Should we accept it, and if so, what should we do with it?” Talking through hypothetical scenarios will help you get clear about how people think and problem solve.
Exchange feedback regularly. At least weekly, meet to share your respective thoughts about what’s working and what could be improved. Focus on delivering fact-based, empathetic input rather than attacking or being passive-aggressive, as fact-based feedback will facilitate more productive conversations.
Identify what really matters and be flexible on the rest. For big strategic issues, make sure you’re clear about how you’ll navigate disagreements. If you reach an impasse, revisit your shared vision and aim for win-win outcomes. Alternatively, seek counsel from an independent advisor who can provide an objective perspective.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Unfair Advantage summary :
- The guidebook you need if you're planning to start a business
- How to find and use your unfair advantages (everybody has some)
- The steps you must take to achieve startup success