Two heads are better than one.
—John Heywood, English playwright.
One of my favorite events in the Summer Olympic Games is the 4×100 meter relay. In this event, a team runs 400 meters total, once around a regulation athletics track, with four teammates running 100 meters each. Currently, Jamaica holds the world record time of 36.84 seconds, achieved at the 2012 London Olympics. That Jamaican team included Usain Bolt, the fastest man and perhaps the most pompous athlete in the world. With teeming swagger and silly showmanship, he smashed the 100-meter dash record with an amazing time of 9.58 seconds in 2009. The three other runners on the winning relay team are world-class, too. The Jamaican team is always a favorite to break a relay record at the Olympic Games.
The 400 meters is another favorite event of mine. However, in this race only one athlete runs 400 meters, the same distance as the 4×100 meter relay. The world record in the 400 meters is held by the great Michael Johnson of the United States. Johnson ran 43.18 seconds in 1999. His record still stands almost thirteen years later. Despite this amazing accomplishment, his time is a huge 6.34 seconds slower than the 4×100 meter relay record. In track and field sprinting events, that difference is an eternity.
What does track and field have to do with entrepreneurship? The comparison of the times of these two races, one run by a single person and the other run by four teammates, perfectly explains why some companies excel and others lag far behind. The metaphor can even be extended to compare training regimens, options during injury, and race-day strategies. If you are an entrepreneur doing everything by yourself, you are competing against a world-class team of sprinters. Chances are you will be left behind, eating the dust of your competitors.
Young entrepreneurs often underestimate the productivity and efficiency of a team. Mesmerized by the possibility of making a lot of money, they believe that team members or cofounders would dilute their equity. This may be true, but the unfortunate assumption that usually accompanies this thinking is that the results would be the same—that a person working alone can produce as much as a team. That is unlikely with the right partners, and we all know that it is wiser to have 50 percent equity in a large company than 100 percent equity in a small company. Also, many young entrepreneurs prefer to avoid the dynamics and complications that come with having team members or cofounders. The value of adding another person to your team, however, supersedes these perceived hindrances.
Over the last twelve years of being an entrepreneur, I have seen such selfish and self-defeating attitudes cripple many founders. So many companies with great ideas are straggling along or dying out because of their founder’s unwillingness to collaborate. These self-absorbed leaders are comfortable with coming in last place, a whopping “6.14 seconds” behind the winning team.
Looking at the greatest start-ups in history, you almost always see a teammate or cofounder from the beginning. Consider Google (Sergey Brin and Larry Page), Microsoft (Bill Gates and Paul Allen), Apple (Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak), and Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin). These pioneers got it right. They realized that their chances of accomplishing their goals were greatly enhanced by the contributions of their teammate.
My most successful ventures have always been those in which I had great teammates. While creating one of the first online content management systems, OmniPublisher, my partner and I worked together like the parts of a new jet engine. Once he joined the project, productivity increased fourfold. Also, he brought a different and brilliant perspective to the table about business decisions and software production. His involvement also made the experience so much more fun.
The idea of one person running a race against four others seems a bit ridiculous, but so many entrepreneurs do exactly that. For whatever reason—pride, fear, or greed—they think they can win by themselves. Avoid this trap. If you don’t have a team member or a cofounder, search for one. It may take some time and effort to find the right people, but once you do, you increase your chances for success greatly.