4 NYC co-founders share the key to a successful partnership

Taylor Majewski

The relationship between co-founders is a precious one, as it’s this elusive, perfect-fit partnership that often determines the fate of a young startup. Successful co-founders often complement each other well, as opposites tend to attract, and garner success, in the world of tech.

However, finding a fitting co-founder doesn’t always happen serendipitously, or overnight, and it can be tough to tell when you’ve found "the one." We asked co-founders from across New York City to share the story of how they met — and why their partnerships work.

Helix Sleep employs data to create personalized mattresses. The New York-based company was founded in 2015 by Adam Tishman, Kristian von Rickenbach and Jerry Lin, who were inspired by terrible mattress-buying experiences and subsequent sleepless nights. We caught up with Adam Tishman to find out the company's founding story. 

When and how did you meet?

We met early on while we were in business school at Wharton. We all knew we wanted to create something and saw the immense value direct-to-consumer brands can bring to customers. This desire was coupled with the realization that having just moved to a new city, we all shared a similarly terrible, yet uniquely different pain point — buying a mattress.

Why did you decide to create the company together?

We knew early on we had something special, but deciding to move from an idea to a company is a big step. People seem to intuitively understand starting a company is risky, but forget that the risk isn't just in the potential failure of the business — it is also in the opportunity cost of the alternative. We spent the first six months at business school with our heads down, learning as much as we could about the category, opportunity and each other.

How do your strengths differ and complement each other?

We all come from different business backgrounds. This has allowed us to have different perspectives and skill sets — whether they be analytical, creative or organizational. But the key here is that while the backgrounds were different, they all actually were in business. We're not one of those founding teams with one business person, an engineer and a data scientist. Our similarities allow us to move fast and trust each other to manage our various parts of the business. Of course, there are challenges with our apparent homogeneity, but we've learned early on you can always bring on talented people to the team to develop specific departments if you let them.

What should entrepreneurs look for in a co-founder?

The first thing is to make sure you and your co-founder are completely in sync about what you want from the venture. After that, you want a co-founder who can both challenge your perspective and accept your challenges as well. The key here is balance. You don't want someone 100 percent like you, but you also don't want someone completely different from you. There are moments when disagreement will create an improved perspective, but there are also moments where you need to just move fast!

What should they avoid?

Don't kid yourself into thinking you can successfully start a business with someone that just rubs you the wrong way or someone you do not respect. Founder dynamics are vital to success as a company and investors understand that. I would also stress you avoid any situation where you and your co-founder have different ideas about how to define success.

 

Industrious offers modern professionals a coworking solution devoid of typical startup ambiance, replaced with a sophisticated workspace that fosters productivity. While Industrious houses growing startups and freelancers, it also serves as an office for industry giants like Spotify and Pinterest. Jamie Hodari and Justin Stewart co-foundered the company.

When and how did you meet?

Justin Stewart: Jamie moved in next door when I was three years old. He was my next door neighbor from then on until the day we left for college, and we stayed best friends ever since. 

Why did you decide to create the company together?

JS: We both were working in shared office settings that didn’t meet our needs. After a year of complaining to each other that there was nothing out there that felt quite right, we told ourselves 'then why the hell don’t we build our dream version ourselves?'

How do your strengths differ and complement each other?

Jamie Hodari: Justin is very quick to act and often goes from the gut. I’m a bit more analytical and deliberative. It has been a really powerful combination for the business because too many startups tend to swing far in one direction or the other depending on the personality of their founder: they either suffer from poor decision making or slow decision making. By combining forces, we found a middle ground. 

What should entrepreneurs look for in a co-founder?

JH: Go for all the typical things: smarts, willingness to work hard, good judgment. But on top of that, look for someone you trust. Not in the 'they don’t seem like Bernie Madoff' kind of way. Real, sincere trust. You’re looking for someone who you believe is going to act with integrity when everything is conspiring for them not to. The way co-founders comport themselves sets the tone for your internal culture and for your external reputation, so you have to believe you’ll be happy with the example your co-founder will set. 

What should they avoid?

JH: People founding companies worry too much about finding the perfect combination of resumes and experience among co-founders. Remember, you’re building a business, not joining The Avengers. A ton of the work in the early days is going to be focused on rolling up your sleeves and just getting things done. If neither of you have business development experience, or product management experience, for example, you can learn or hire the necessary expertise. Your co-founder is your partner-in-crime and there are a lot of qualities more important to selecting one than whether they have the perfect resume. 

 

GetIntent is one of the leading players in the global programmatic platform industry. The company’s platform is powered by machine learning, which allows it to help marketers activate their data across media touch points. George Levin and Vladimir Klimontovich co-founded the company, and we caught up with George to learn more about the founding story. 

When and how did you meet?

At 16 years old Vladimir and I both entered math school in Moscow. We were not best friends, but we had similar qualities. After graduation, we were still not the closest friends, but at one point, we both wanted to build this platform [GetIntent].

How do your strengths differ and complement each other?

I had more of the client knowledge and Vladimir had more knowledge as to what features to build. The relationship was crucial for growing our business, as I consider myself as having more of the soft skills, and he’s a true IT guy. Where Vladimir was tough with execution and deadlines, I had the soft skills to convince people to join the team when we didn’t have money.

What should entrepreneurs look for in a co-founder?

It may seem comfortable to start working with someone who shares your ideas, but I think that ends badly. You need to find someone who can complement you, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. Being friends with a co-founder is dangerous. If your views are too similar, you move in the same direction. There should be some type of conflict at all time — it’s crucial for business. We have this type of conflict all the time, and the right answer is always a compromise.

 
 

SiteCompli gathers and analyzes data on the ever-changing regulations with which property owners, managers and developers must comply. Ross Goldenberg and Jason Griffith created the platform, which provides precise monitoring and easy access to violations.

When and how did you meet?

Ross Goldenberg: We met at Columbia Business School through the InSITE Venture Fellowship Program. Through that program, we learned a great deal about entrepreneurship and what it takes to create a successful business.

Why did you decide to create the company together?

RG: Starting SiteCompli together was an obvious decision. Not only do we have the same passion for technology and data, we also share the same values. Building a company isn't easy; there are going to be great and challenging moments. I knew that if I was going to go on this journey, it had to be with someone that I trusted, respected and could learn from.  

Jason Griffith: I should also mention that we graduated from Columbia Business School as friends — in fact, we're neighbors. Not only is it important to find someone that has a similar entrepreneurial drive as you, but it’s always a bonus if you get along with them outside of work.

How do your strengths differ and complement each other?

JG: Our partnership works because of our different experiences. I have a background in sales and Ross is more technical, so we oversee different aspects of the business. Identifying our strengths at the beginning made it easy to define our roles as co-founders. This makes it easier to hold each other accountable as we continue to grow.

RG: It's great to have someone who has a different perspective than you. What makes Jason a great business partner is that he brings a bag of skills and expertise that I don't have. We challenge each other to think of strategies we wouldn’t recognize on our own, and it's worked well. It’s been eight years and our partnership has turned out to be a great success because of the ability to leverage our strengths. Our differences have led to an increase in product innovation and has driven tremendous results for SiteCompli. We're a balanced working team.

What should entrepreneurs look for in a co-founder?

RG: Look for a co-founder with the same passion and vision as you. You both need to have a shared goal and interests for your business to succeed.  The right co-founder is also someone that recognizes they have a lot to learn and is willing to do so. This will contribute to the growth and success of your company; continuous improvement is always a strong characteristic to have in a co-founder.

JG: Look for someone that can manage their emotions - this is crucial in the startup environment. Having success as a startup relies on the co-founders’ ability to stay calm under pressure.

What should they avoid?

JG: If you don’t trust someone, don’t bother working with them. You need to have faith that your co-founder has your company's best interest and is equally committed to the business venture.

RG: Scaling a company requires patience and flexibility. Avoid anyone who isn't able to adapt to this changing environment. You will always encounter surprises with any new business, so avoid people that don't have the ability to handle anything at any time.

Know of a company that deserves coverage? Let us know or tweet us @builtinnewyork.

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