Pitched at first sight: Co-founding a startup with a stranger

What’s the most important part of a startup’s infrastructure? Its foundations. This news may come as no surprise; the founding team - be it one person or many - is responsible for weaving the very fabric of the company, which will be worn long after the business gets up and running.

A founding team is responsible for every key decision, the realisation of ideas, building a company culture and, perhaps most importantly, the company’s overall success. Studies have shown that two founders, rather than one, increase the odds of a startup’s success, in many cases leading to 30% more investment and a tripled customer growth rate.

However, reports also show that a weak founding team makes up 14% of why startups fail. Deciding to start a business can be one of the biggest decisions of your life, but deciding who to do it with comes in a close second. 

Our founding story is a little unusual. In 2015, we met for lunch after meeting on a Facebook group. Ulrika had returned to Stockholm from Silicon Valley, after spending four years immersing herself in the startup community.

Claudia on the other hand was longing to leave the Swedish police force to start a business. We both felt the lack of a vibrant and supportive network for female entrepreneurs in our hometown. During our lunch, we bonded over our shared frustrations and desire for a solution. We saw an opportunity to create an app that would make it easier for women to connect with like-minded individuals and build meaningful relationships.

This app, had it existed earlier, could have brought us both together as budding female entrepreneurs.

We never went on another friendship date, because the next time we met we decided to become business partners. We jumped in head-first and started working on gofrendly, an app and community facilitating friendships and meaningful connections between women. Eight years later, we are still working hard on this concept, and we are extremely proud of it.

Going into business with someone you don’t know can very much be like marrying a stranger: a lot of people would consider it foolish, but in many ways, it’s a totally fresh start. Above all, we have both found that you need to find someone who will be open, adaptable and focused on your joint vision. The Harvard Business Review recently reported that soft skills like ‘entrepreneurial passion’ and ‘shared strategic vision’ are key in a founding team. In many ways, this is where going into business with a stranger can be so beneficial; you aren’t heading into the venture carrying a load of existing baggage between the two of you.

This can be a new beginning, without any old disagreements, disappointments or preconceived notions of the other person, allowing you to be more open to each other’s ideas and play to each other’s strengths. Embracing the honeymoon period also does not mean you have to overlook potential risks; much like a prenup is essential when marrying a stranger, it’s important to factor a shareholders agreement into the relationship, too. 

When we started working together full-time, we experienced something we had never expected: a co-founders' honeymoon period. A co-founder relationship without history is much like the first few months of a new friendship or romantic relationship; you are adamant to make a good impression and tend to be making an extra effort. Whilst this may reflect the stereotypes of a romantic relationship more than that of a co-founder, this ‘honeymoon’ effect can be extremely good for business.

Starting a company from scratch is a huge challenge regardless of the circumstances under which you do it; you have to consider funding, building a team, and attaining a customer base amongst many other complicating factors and necessities. But, as co-founders, riding the honeymoon wave through your first months of startup life together can encourage your best work, output and ideas at the most crucial of times. 

Since co-founding gofrendly together, we have learned that while founder relationships can be tricky at times, for many, starting a company alongside another person is essential. If we had tried to start gofrendly alone, without the invaluable support we get from one another, it would have been a far more isolating experience.

You can have the pleasure of working alongside brilliant people at your company, and have a fantastic network to lean on, but no one else understands your worries - nor your dreams - quite like your co-founder.

We came into founding gofrendly with unwavering excitement and a thirst to work and create, and our partnership has been invaluable, both in sharing the highs and lows of startup life, and in having a right-hand person to bounce ideas off at any given moment.

Our joint experience from co-founding with a stranger has created something that we are hugely excited about. The gofrendly app now has almost 250,000 users and - a statistic we’re particularly proud of - it is used by 65% of all 20-35 year old women in Stockholm.

There is now a place for women who, like us eight years ago, can make the connections they are looking for. After facilitating almost 11 million messages, 4,600 coffee dates, 2,537 friend groups and 70 trips abroad between users, we think we can safely say that our gamble of going into business together has paid off.

We were able to start a company without the concern of putting a pre-existing friendship under stress and strain. This is something for which we are immensely grateful and is one of the reasons why we have been able to form and maintain a close friendship since working together. 

In any co-founding relationship, the key rules for success remain the same. Openness, respect and communication are essentials; there is nothing as damaging as an unspoken or unresolved conflict, so air should always be cleared. Your relationship with your co-founder is one of the most important investments you will ever make for your company, so nurture it, and choose wisely.