How Much Influence Should a Startup Studio Have on the Companies It Creates?

How Much Influence Should a Startup Studio Have on the Companies It Creates?

We care a lot about culture. We think it’s one of the cornerstones of a successful startup. When we were operating Strangeloop, we made culture a top priority. We did all the usual things you see in tech — parties, breakfasts, ping pong — but it was our effort to operate with a relatively flat organizational structure that ensured we had a happy, productive team. We must have been doing something right, because we won BC Business’s “best company to work for” award five years in a row.

Moving forward, we want to make sure that culture is a priority in any company we create. 


Commitment to culture

We look for this commitment to culture in the entrepreneurs we work with, and we’re always looking for ways to help empower them to achieve this goal. One way would be to help them find the right co-founder who shared these values. So when the time came, we would tap our networks, set up the interviews, check references, and make our suggestion as to whom that co-founder should be.

But then we realized that this strategy would be a mistake. Here’s why.


Taking an interest versus taking control

When we first decided that SPV would follow the startup studio model, we did so because we wanted to take an active role in the companies we invest in. Not only would we develop our own ideas, we would also heavily influence key decisions made in the early days of that company, including finding a co-founder. We’ve now come to believe that this approach risks dampening the independent energy a good entrepreneur can bring to an enterprise.


Culture starts with the original founder

Finding a co-founder they can work with is one of the most important tasks an entrepreneur must accomplish. An entrepreneur needs to figure out what expertise they need in a co-founder, which means identifying those qualities they themselves may lack. This takes good judgement, self awareness, and no small amount of magnetism — important skills that can make the difference between success or failure for a startup.

As executives, we’re tempted to help make things easier for an entrepreneur by suggesting who we think could fill the role of co-founder. But when you’re in a position of power, you don’t have the luxury of suggesting anything without it sounding like an order. Instead of an entrepreneur hearing “what about this person?” they hear “if you don’t pick who we think is best, your judgement is in question.”

We realized that this is not a relationship we should interfere with. Ultimately the entrepreneur and co-founder must work to build a team and a culture of their own. The determination as to whether or not they have the right chemistry must come from the original founder, not us. It might not always go exactly according to our wishes, but we think the independence of our entrepreneurs, as well as founder chemistry, is crucial to the success of the company they are building.

So now we act as sage advisors, providing guidance on co-founder dynamics and culture. But when it comes to finding co-founders, we take a step back and let our entrepreneurs do their job.

Jonathan Bixby

In no particular order, I’m an active angel investor, mentor, and serial entrepreneur.

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