Let’s talk about team. This is one of the buzziest of Silicon Valley buzzwords. The whole “we invest in people, not products.” I’m not going to lie and say that think that’s awesome. I’m also unsure if I actually believe that refrain. I am not calling people liars, I’m just going to say this, when I hear people talk in Silicon Valley, I never hear people say, “We’re looking for the next Mark Zuckerberg.” No, people say things like the next Facebook or next Google. They talk about the next whatever, not the next whoever.
But, that said, since the team involves the people who will be working on this proposed project, I get why the accelerator folks want to know about them. As I mentioned in my last post, we recently applied to a couple accelerators, so this whole process has been on my mind lately.
And one of the questions you get every time when it comes to team is something along the lines of, “So… how did you guys meet?”
We put a version of this response (sometimes edited for length):
Maria and AnnMaria have known each other for 31 years. We met at Sharpe Memorial Hospital on Sept. 3, 1982 at 6:34 p.m. Although, depending on existential beliefs, one could argue we met nine or so months before that, as AnnMaria is Maria’s mother.
We were introduced to Dennis in 1997 when he sent AnnMaria a framed fractal image for Valentine’s Day. Maria, then 15, thought it was super nerdy. But AnnMaria found it was endearing and ultimately married Dennis.
Now from what I’ve been told – and it makes sense – they ask all of these questions about how the team met, how long the team has been working together, etc. because they want to make sure that you’re not going to like breakup as a team if things get tough, that visions align, etc. True, there’s never a guarantee that won’t happen regardless of how you answer these questions, but this is to kind of feel out the relationship between the founders.
But here’s where it gets kind of confusing. It is also a common refrain that accelerators, investors, etc. don’t actually like husband and wife founder teams. I learned about this when helping my husband with his startup. A number of married co-founders (this number is anecdotal, as in I know several, not some data I found) actually present themselves as simply business partners unless someone straight up asks. (I’m not sure about parent-child startups, since we seem to be a rarer breed.) Now, that does not make ANY sense to me.
And it’s not just me. Yesterday, when I was at the Stanford Venture Studio, my husband, a woman who works for the program and I were having this exact conversation as to why married founders are “unattractive” to investors. Our unanimous consensus was it makes no sense.
Here’s why: If you’re married, you’re probably far less likely to have a fight with your co-founder and say, “You know what? Screw this. I’m out. I don’t have to deal with you.” Because you actually do have to deal with that person – every day for the rest of your lives.
Moreover – and I say this as someone now with experience both working on a startup with her own spouse and working on a startup where the other two founders are married – you can be certain that if you’ve got a pair of married founders, they are putting in way more collaborative hours working on the project than if two random folks came together to work on a project.
Anyone who is married knows that work always come home, no matter how much you say you’re going to leave it at the office. In a startup household, it’s more like you say, “OK, for the next hour, I don’t want to talk about anything work related” only to find it dominating the conversation again five minutes later. Literally, it’s pretty much all startup, all the time. When you have a vested interest in a company succeeding that fact should be considered a major asset.
There’s also the fact that married co-founders (or parent-kid cofounders) have probably done a way better job and way longer job of assessing the qualifications and fit of the other founder. We think we have an edge in terms of established length of partnerships when it comes to 7 Generation Games. In the case of AnnMaria and Dennis, they’ve been working together as a team for 17+ years. In the case of me and my mom, it’s 31 years. (In my case, she pretty much as literally as one can, created her co-founder from scratch.) The odds of us outlasting a pair of 20-somethings who met as undergrads are pretty high. Think for a second how many folks you met in college that you’re still close enough with that you speak every day. My point exactly.
Then, of course, there’s a financial reason. When you’ve got a pair of founders or a trio of founders, they’re likely splitting the costs. You pull out, things fall apart, whatever – you lose the half or the third of the money you put in. If you’re married, you’re doubly as financially committed.
Is there a larger point I’m trying to make here? Yes, it’s that I think the idea floating around out there about married co-founders being a disadvantage is really stupid.