Not so long ago I met for the second time with a potential co-founder for our MedTech startup. It was a really good and interesting meeting, and the conversation was really good.
One of the things we talked about was what it means to be a co-founder of a startup.
“What does being a co-founder mean to you?”, he asked me. So of course I had to give him my best shot with an answer.
There are very big differences between being a co-founder and being a key employee in my book. And while in the following it may seem so, I wish no disrespect to key employees at all, and their contributions should be deeply valued. They’re just not co-founders.
Back to how I see a co-founder compared to a key employee:
While key employees may be some of the first to head for the lifeboats when your startup ship takes in water and set off for the safety of dry land, a co-founder goes down the ladder to the very bottom of the hull to man the pumps and start pumping away.
In the same way when the shit hits the fan, and the house is on fire, a key employee may try to call for the fire brigade. The co-founder grabs the nearest fire extinguisher, heads into the flames and starts putting the fire out.
You get my drift.
While the key employee may get excited about the professional challenge for a period of time, the co-founder falls in love with the problem and pictures herself digging in until the problem is either solved (or at the very least seeing good traction) or the startup has run out of steam and is beyond any salvation.
While the key employee may choose to focus more on his job at hand and personal goals and KPIs, the co-founder is always ready to step in and help the team, where the need arises.
And so on.
The biggest overall difference between a co-founder and a key employee is a mental one. It’s about WANTING it and being willing do back up that desire by running the extra miles needed for the team and startup to succeed.
Often, when you meet people, you can tell whether they are co-founder material or not.
Some are naturals. Some may grow into it over time. Some will never get there.
Nothing wrong with that. Just be able to spot the difference.