The startup journey from zero to profitability and beyond is difficult and strenuous for all. Jenny Saft, co-founder of OVIAVO, fertility and family forming benefits for the workplace, says "I have a ton of respect for people who go on the entrepreneurial journey by themselves. I don’t think I could ever started a company without a co-founder." Sharing the burden and opportunity of being a founder has long been recommended. In fact, a growing number of startup accelerators are launching founder matching platforms or programs like Y Combinator's Co-Founder Matching Platform and Entrepreneur First. Sharing the founder role is widely recognized because of the benefits it provides such as a wider skillset, more continuity to run the business, more brain power to solve problems, allyship for morale, etc. The same benefits apply when sharing other roles across levels, functions, industries and company sizes. Marianne Lake and Jennifer Piepszak, Co-CEOs of Chase Consumer & Community Banking, and Dr. Shelagh Muir and Jane Maciver, Co-VPs of Research at Unilever, have all shared examples of the personal and business benefits of sharing in their respective roles. However, at the core of all successful partnerships is a complex recipe of interpersonal dynamics. Historically, finding a good match has been more luck than science.
Sharing the founder role is widely recognized because of the benefits it provides such as a wider skillset, more continuity to run the business, more brain power to solve problems, allyship for morale.
Saft was lucky. When she started looking for a co-founder for her startup, she didn't have access to a single point solution to find her "perfect match." She knew she wanted someone to complement her skills. She first looked for a female co-founder because she says, "initially a lot of my thinking was around the challenges of women fertility." Soon after sharing her mission with Tobias Kaufhold, whom she met through mutual friends, he expressed authentic interest in being co-founder of OVIAVO. Saft's personal experience with fertility programs, or lack thereof, inspired her to launch OVIAVO to support companies set up fertility and family forming programs for their employees. Today, she and Kaufhold, are paving a path for "modern companies to overcome inequalities by supporting all employees to plan families and thrive in their careers at the same time."
Saft describes their partnership as a "perfect match." She explains "for me it’s the ideal work split because Tobi is taking care of all the things I’m really not good at. So, while I’m focussing mostly on everything external like sales, marketing, investor relations; Tobi is managing everything internally like product, operations, legal." Sophie Smallwood, co-founder of Roleshare, a platform matching professionals to share jobs, says "This complementary merging of skills and experiences is the magic of sharing. You're in essence creating a synergized professional - a super pro. Having a true ally 'being in it together' brings out the best performance and highest level of empathy in people, generally speaking." Kaufhold agrees, "your co-founder becomes your better half, your sounding board, your friend, your therapist...all in one person. And while we definitely have a lot of arguments, I strongly believe that puts us in a much better position because it provides opportunities to learn."
Your co-founder becomes your better half, your sounding board, your friend, your therapist...all in one person.
"Running a startup is a whirlwind of challenges and emotions. Having a partner to huddle with and face challenges together is literally priceless" says Smallwood. Growth is top of mind for most startups. This includes commercial growth and, even more so, hiring. The "post" pandemic job market is hot and the war for talent is fierce. This poses a challenge to startups who can't compete for talent in a landscape of $100,000 sign on bonuses. So how can startups like OVIAVO compete? "We’re definitely not in a position yet to pay top notch salaries. We’re an early stage startup with all the pros and cons that come with that stage. Luckily, we decided to start a company in an industry that affects a lot of people and that will actually make a difference in the world. And especially after COVID, the need to find a fulfilling job and to work towards a bigger purpose is getting increasingly important. People are looking for something beyond just salary and that’s exactly what we can offer at OVIAVO" says Kaufhold.
While on one side there is the war for talent, on the other is what has been coined "the great resignation." Employee expectations have shifted, they are now more dynamic and individualistic. People want flexibility to care, to be well, to learn, to grow. "Flexibility is no longer a 'nice to have' it's a must have" says Smallwood. "Startups are by default very intense working environments, it's partly what makes them appealing, but they can also be 'burn out' jobs. So how do startups who want to make a positive impact in the world, also manage for burn out?" asks Smallwood. Roleshare, for example, are a fully distributed, remote team with flexi hours. All their full-time roles are also shareable to professionals seeking part-time.
Employee expectations have shifted, they are now more dynamic and individualistic. People want flexibility to care, to be well, to learn, to grow.
OVIAVO too are cognisant of managing and hiring their teams healthily. "We believe it is important to provide our workers with support and mentoring even when they are going through non-work-related life changes. We make sure to create an environment in which our employees feel understood and comfortable to share their needs wherever they are in their lives. We are an employee wellbeing and benefits company ourselves, so we absolutely believe in the benefits of taking care of our employees’ wellbeing. We offer flexible working hours or remote work possibilities, as well as mental health support, and, of course, fertility & family forming benefits. We’re still evolving our own benefits strategy, and it’s definitely something we will implement further once we hit our next startup milestones" says Saft.