There are many different ways to build a technology startup, but generally the tech founders will be some combination of what I call a One and a Two.
A One is someone who start things. They have vision, conviction, and see the world as it ought to be, and they can paint a clear picture of what life looks like when their idea has come to fruition. They won’t stop until the future is now present.
A Two is someone who shows up as the one is getting started and opts to join them on the crusade. They don’t usually come up with the idea, but they believe just as strongly in the picture being painted by the One and are willing to go the distance. They are like BASF. They may not create the thing, but they make the thing better by being there.
The myth is that in order to be a successful entrepreneur you have to be a One. However, I’ve come to realize that the Two is every bit the entrepreneur that the One is. Nearly every great One has a Two. Steve Jobs and Woz. Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. You get the idea. A Two brings something to the table that the One doesn’t have. It might be a certain skill or a different personality or something less tangible, but the value is equal.
I was speaking with a very successful entrepreneur and investor a few weeks back and we came around to this topic. To my surprise, he said “I’ve always been a Two. I’ve always joined the thing rather than create the thing. There’s nothing wrong with being a Two. It doesn’t make you less of an entrepreneur or less successful long-term.”
Understanding this fundamental truth can totally change your outlook on how you start a company, especially if you’re a Two. When you’re a Two it becomes much more about finding the One who’s working on something you care deeply about rather than sitting in your basement trying to invent the next big thing. It might not be what you’re best at.
If you’re struggling to come up with that great idea, take a step back and do an honest assessment of your work history and what you are best suited for. If it turns out that you work best alongside a Gates or Jobs rather than wanting to be Gates or Jobs, perhaps you’re better off putting your efforts toward that objective.
Here’s some practical steps you can take to become a great Two, someone a One will want to pull on to their tech founder team:
- Create a matrix of the skills and disciplines required to start and grow a company. These would be things like prospecting for new clients, building technology, supporting customers, doing the books, selling, negotiating contracts, and so on. Put a check box by everything you’re good at. You now have a clear picture of who you’re looking for as a partner.
- Start asking around in your network for people they know who are starting something new or coming out of their last gig AND are good at the things you’re not so great at. Refer to your list and be specific. “I’m looking to meet people who are great at X, Y and Z and need someone who’s good at A, B and C. Who do you know whom you could introduce me to?”
- Continue to hone / build the skills you’re good at. If you’re a developer, keep turning out work and staying relevant.
- Be patient. The process will take longer than you might think in some cases.
Both Ones and Twos are needed for a business to be successful. Don’t be afraid to clearly identify who you truly are.