The key is to find a partner who is strong in areas where you are weak.
5 min read
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Entrepreneurs are not known for having work-life balance. In my experience, trying to find balance as a startup founder is like looking for a real-life unicorn. If you’re looking to create something that is disrupting an industry, the path isn’t going to be easy.
Building out a new idea practically guarantees imbalance. This is especially true in the early stages of a startup. Prior to joining LegalZoom, I would work 100 hours a week. It was a fast-paced startup world. I had to make certain sacrifices. For example, I chose not to have a family right away, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to be the present father I wanted to be. However, I was prepared to make those decisions. I believed in the work I was doing, and I knew it was going to take blood, sweat and tears.
So, what’s my advice to entrepreneurs on achieving balance? First, grow the company. Even in a company of 25 people, the burden of leadership generally falls on one person. It can take upwards of 100 people to really notice a shift in leadership. But, second, and most importantly, look for a co-partner that is just as strong as you are.
The one-two punch
Usually, when companies are founded, there is one individual who is celebrated. We forget there’s almost always another person behind the scenes helping to call the shots. Oftentimes, that person doesn’t want to share the spotlight. He or she is happy to have a non-public facing role and just want to get the work done. We tend to talk about the visionaries, but there has to be a person in the company who helps turn that vision into reality. We all know Walt Disney, and maybe even the previous longtime CEO Michael Eisner, but what about Frank Wells? As the president and COO alongside Eisner, Wells helped lead the company through a 10-year period of unprecedented growth. Steve Jobs will forever be remembered as the visionary behind Apple, but Steve Wozniak provided the necessary engineering expertise to drive the company forward. Even today, many believe Elon Musk needs a strong second-in-command to help run Tesla.
I call this dynamic the “one-two punch” in leadership. As a CEO, you have to think critically about your second-in-command — whether it’s the COO, CTO or CFO.
We all want to be able to spend our time doing the things at which we excel. Excellence is what drives the company forward. At LegalZoom, I’ve been able to spend 80 percent of my working hours on tasks that leverage my strengths. The only way that I can do that is by having a partner who is strong in areas I may be weaker. In a strong one-two punch combination, both of us are spending 80 percent of our time on our strengths. The key is that those strengths don’t overlap.
How to find a great co-captain
The longer you wait to find your “two,” or if you make a mistake in selecting that person, you set yourself up for trouble. How do you find a second-in-command that can help you lead your company to success? It may seem obvious, but the first key is to understand where your weaknesses lie. It is essential that your co-leader make up for the skills that you lack, and vice versa.
It’s important to consider a person’s background as well, but don’t be afraid to look beyond the resume. I’ve judged candidates before based on raw talent and a gut feeling on their potential. Sometimes the best person for the role doesn’t necessarily have the strongest resume. Instead, he or she has a high level of motivation and a killer work ethic. These are the individuals that never hear “no.” They look for solutions rather than just identifying issues — and they are critical in the startup world.
Ultimately, while you bring different skill sets and career aspirations to the table, you and your co-partner must connect at a collegial level. At the end of the day, you have to appreciate what the other does. You have to share a common vision and mission.
Finding balance, after all
Any CEO with some semblance of balance in their life owes it to the small army of individuals behind them helping to make it happen. While you should prepare for imbalance early in your career and understand the sacrifices it takes to start a company, with the right “two,” you’ll have the support needed to succeed.