It's an age old process: you build a business, and when it comes to finding your co-founder, choosing the right person is the most important decision you’ll make.
James Mackonochie and I are the co-founders of OFF3R, the investment comparison website.
Currently, we’re having a lot of meetings together as we’re raising our own Series A. Obviously, focus is first and foremost on the business – presenting our team, our numbers, our plans for growth. But we’ve noticed something else about the process: when in front of potential investors as a twosome, you really get to enjoy the balance of your personalities. It’s this, after all, that investors want to see and be part of. And it also reminds you why you shacked up together in the first place.
We made friends through the haze of university and remained so in the decade that followed. James spent 10 years climbing the ranks at Deloitte, learning about the importance of discipline, process and clear governance, while delivering complex technology into an often politically explosive environment.
I, on the other hand, started my own business straight out of university and, in the decade that followed, built and sold businesses in retail, hospitality and financial services – the latter being the area in which I felt my true calling. When an opportunity arose for us to work together, we both jumped at the chance, mindful that we would learn a great deal from each other.
It’s glaringly obvious that you can’t be excellent at everything. Great teams display a balance of skills and perspectives that are channelled effectively into creating the best outcome for the business. I, for instance, am pretty poor at creating formal processes and communicating my rationale for making certain decisions with those around me.
James isn’t too hot on the creative side of things.
On the plus side, we can both identify each others’ good bits: “I have never worked with someone quite like Lex before. He is always reading or listening to audio books to grow his knowledge. He has a strategic vision that others can only dream of, and the ability to articulate and sell that vision to almost anyone. These are all traits that do not come naturally to me – there are many skills that I have, that do not come naturally to Lex.”
He’s right. But plainly the reverse is also true. I’m the natural salesman, and James is the problem-solver. While I’ve always brought people around me to execute an idea, a decade in a top management consultancy means he can manage a broad and varied range of work streams with ease. He’s also got a tireless work ethic, which never fails to inspire me.
As time goes by we become more and more conscious of our complementary skill sets, and this gives us the confidence that, between the two of us, we have the balance of skills required to grow a substantial fintech business.
There have, of course, been times when we’ve locked horns, typically when roles have not been defined and we’re overlapping in areas of focus. I’ve found this is most evident in the creative process – which is perhaps one of the more emotionally charged areas of business.
On more than one occasion, for example, we’ve fallen out over the design of digital assets in adverts and on our website. It used to take a few days for us to cool off.
When two driven, smart and ambitious people disagree it can get quite heated.
Experience has taught us to channel this as a positive, not to let adrenaline and emotion rule, but to stay open minded and passionate about finding the best possible outcome.
To solve a disagreement, put yourselves in a neutral setting, approach with an open mind and not a rigid set of expectations. Preparation is also important, so that “gut feelings” can be supported by evidence, and a meeting doesn’t just descend into conjecture.
Actually, solving conflict with a business partner is much like how you avoid conflict in a romantic relationship. Scarily.
Lex Deak is chief executive and co-founder at OFF3R.