[Ask Your VC] Murli Ravi's thoughts on seeking co-founders and premature scaling

12th Nov 2013
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Murli Ravi – Head of JAFCO Investment, Singapore


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What are some key criteria one should consider while seeking a co-founder?

Short answer: Think complementary (This is necessary but by no means sufficient).

It's obvious why you want your co-founders to bring complementary things to the table. If you're an engineer who loves building products, you need someone else to sell those products, someone else to support customers, and so on.

At the same time, be mindful that simply having the skills needed is not enough to make someone the ideal co-founder. Consider also aspects like:

  • Do we have a shared vision?
  • Can I see myself working with this person through good times and bad?
  • How committed is this person? Should this person be a founder or an employee?

A certain amount of alignment among founders can be engineered by having a vesting schedule for founder shares.

Can a non-technical founder launch a successful tech start-up?

Sure, though it is not common, especially if technology is supposed to be a core strength of the startup. Look at Zynga and Ali Baba, among others.

How do you decide the ideal size of a startup team?

This varies so widely that I hate to give a one-size-fits-all answer. Some questions to think about are:

  • What stage is my startup at? If you are at day zero today, perhaps all you need is a team that will get you to MVP.
  • What industry am I working in? A startup that plans to develop a mobile calendar app doesn't need as many people as one that is working on the next generation of electric cars.

What are the implications of premature scaling?

The most obvious implication is running out of cash. Ramping up your team prematurely can result in straitened circumstances or even an untimely end to your business.

Even if money is not an issue, increasing the size of your company too quickly can rip apart your company's culture or dilute your focus on your important early customers.

What is "too quickly"? Ah, I wish I could provide another nice formula to define that for you. The best I can really do is to provide a circular, self-referential definition, which is that you know you're growing too quickly when you see problems like the ones above coming up.

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