Finding the Perfect Co-founder (and Letting Go of a Bad One)

Tips From Avallano CEO Paul Della Maggiora

Paul Della Maggiora, CEO of Greenville startup Avallano

There might not be a single person in the world who can do everything involved in starting a scalable tech company.

But there just might be two people.

With complementary skills and a shared vision, a two-person founding team could handle most of what’s necessary to get a scalable app off the ground and past the initial stages of software development and fundraising.

But while the idea — finding a marketing guru to match the brilliant coder, or the visionary creative with the detail-oriented planner — sounds great, the execution of a partnership is another matter entirely. Challenges arise, especially when you have a disagreement with someone who owns half your company’s stock.

So what is a co-founding team of two supposed to do if they need to split up?

Greenville is quickly becoming a hub of startup conversation and education, with topics ranging from big-picture, high-level tech trends to nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts discussions on management, marketing and venture capital. Paul Della Maggiora, CEO of Greenville startup Avallano, spoke at NEXT’s Founders Forum last Wednesday precisely on these important and often unexpected hurdles that emerge when starting a company with an equal partner. Avallano offers a patented software platform for pharma and healthcare, with a focus on mental health services for veterans.

Maggiora, who has a background in software development and entrepreneurship but has seen the “other side” as well by working for a venture fund, led a candid discussion with moderator Eric Cooperman — founder of beverage quality control company Bottle Titan.

It was fascinating to hear Maggiora talk about firing a co-founder, while retaining control of his company. It highlighted just how important it is to lay out the ground rules of co-ownership, and to know when things aren’t working out and what to do. During the open Q-and-A, a few of the attendees discussed legal agreements that function, essentially, as a “prenup” — in other words, if a founder wants to back out or ask a partner to leave, there’s already an exit strategy in place.

It was fascinating to hear Maggiora talk about firing a co-founder, while retaining control of his company. It highlighted just how important it is to lay out the ground rules of co-ownership, and to know when things aren’t working out and what to do.

Here are five great tips for startup founders Maggiora offered at the Founders Forum:

1. FINDING YOUR CO-FOUNDER: Get someone complementary

“The best co-founder is the complete inverse of you. I have strengths and weaknesses, I want someone that will take up all the stuff I don’t want to care about. They’re detailed, I’m not. They follow through on things, I’m big idea person.”

2. CONFIDENCE: Support yourself and find those to support you through the tough times

“The imposter syndrome isn’t true. It’s your mind telling you’re not worthy or you’re not good. If you keep it to yourself, you’ll bury yourself.”

3. HIRING: Building your team by looking beyond the resume

“Everyone I found through my network. When I interview I like to meet their families and ask about things other than the job. We call it “The X Factor.” We look at the technical skill with: give me evidence of what you’ve done. But there’s always an X Factor. You can start feeling whether or not they jive with what you’re doing.”

4. FIRING: Let go of people who hurt your entire team

“The quickest sign that I had to fire someone is the culture was breaking and I started seeing people not talk to each other. You started sensing in meetings that there is kind of this weird vibe, and I’m blind to certain kind of personalities. I won’t see that someone’s being destructive or not getting along well with others, but you start seeing it.”

5. BUCKING THE TREND: Ask yourself why your business is different than industry standard, and whether it’s for a good reason

“I feel that it’s very easy as a founder to fall into ‘Nobody’s thought of this.’ And then you find out not only that they thought of it, but they moved on because it didn’t make them any money.”

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Wei Chen

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