Life after Startup – My unexpected new sparring partner

I’m scrolling, scrolling and scrolling through random names in my phone’s contact list. And I think to myself: “This one knows a lot about marketing, that one is great at making content, this one always has really sharp questions… ”

I don’t really know who I am looking for, but I know I want to talk with someone about a new business idea. Now that I am sitting alone in an office, I find myself in that position more often.

Previously when I was sitting 1 meter away from my co-founder it was mostly a matter of tapping him on the shoulder. Or even better, while still wearing my jacket at the entrance of our office, juuuust before he could take his first sip of coffee.

Choosing a sparring partner for your ideas is something I want to talk  about today, as I believe it is obviously one of the biggest blessings in setting up a company to have a co-founder. But as I am now discovering, the solo-journey has some unexpected benefits when it comes to sparring with others.

The benefits of a co-founder as your sparring partner

The biggest benefit of having a co-founder is that, just like in a romantic relationship, you have someone that will always be invested in what you have to say.

Sometimes to the point of annoying my co-founder, or him having to set clear boundaries like: “sharing ideas is only allowed after the first cup of coffee is finished”.

A co-founder is one of the very few people that really understands what you are going through. They can remain excited about the many challenges that lie ahead without it getting old or boring after hearing it over and over again.

Especially in hard times I often remember driving my wife, friends and family crazy, to the point where they would politely ask me if I didn’t have anythings else to talk about, other than my company.

Next to the emotional side of things, it is just tremendously effective to have someone in your same situation that you can dump an idea on anytime.

I distinctly remember having conversations with my business partner where we would go from:

  1. an abstract conversation
  2. to a clear plan
  3. and the execution of that plan, within an hour.

That is a speed that is hard to replicate with any other person.

Left (my old business partner Joost) Right (me), as you can see we were inseparable :p.

My network as my sparring partner

The day that me and my business partner parted ways, all that started to change. Since I had never really worked in a context other than one of owning my own company with another person, this was completely new to me.

Since I am an idea person, I had always relied on my co-founder to help me narrow things down. Wether it was a good critical question on an idea, or actually helping me narrow my focus down to simply dealing with less ideas.

Now that I have found myself slowly building up a new context to work in (my own office, a finished website, slowly some new products and services starting to emerge), I notice a change in how I go about validating ideas.

Instead of asking all my questions to 1 person, I now tend to spread them much more over different people in my network, which has a few surprising benefits.

  1. Gaining multiple perspectives – Where I previously would have only asked my business partner, I now hear several stakeholders’ thoughts on things (potential customers, partners, suppliers or even other founders). This gives me a much more rounded idea of where I can be of most value.
  2. Having more specialised expertise early on – Of course I would always involve experts when I was developing new products for Funk-e for instance, however I would often wait until we were well along the way. Now I just call people with much more expertise very early on.
  3. Developing stronger partners – Since I involve my network very early on, I feel that it is more easy to develop a common sense of ownership and partnership.

The upside of being alone: better networking

If you have ever gone on holiday by yourself, you will probably remember two things:

  1. There are times where you can feel very lonely and bored
  2. When you connect with other travellers, the bond tends to be much more intense very quickly.

Starting a new company by yourself has similar side-effects. Because I am alone more often I am forced to make more contact with others more quickly. I remember for example that when I would go to conferences with my business partner, we tended to stick together to not leave each other alone, and therefore were less likely to make contact with new people.

Also when the business was running on full steam, it was easier to stay involved within the company and be less focussed on what was going on outside our business.

So, even though I am still a firm believer of starting a new company with another person, I do find myself pleasantly surprised by the side effects of being alone for a while: Stronger networking.

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