“We were meant to be together.” - A common phrase used by most couples. Despite the cliché, it’s been proven to be applicable for business partners and founding teams.
Finding the right cofounder takes patience and persistence. Like any serious relationship, you’ll go through different stages, from power struggles to commitment issues. In analyzing a handful of co-founders, it’s apparent there is such a thing as entrepreneurial “soul mates,” but even the most lucrative founding teams ran into relationship barriers on the journey to success.
As it turns out, co-founders are most successful when the two have differing profiles. While one may excel in one area, another can dominate in another field. In other words, they complete each other.
For the past 6 years, the Founder Institute has worked with leading social scientists to develop a Predictive Admissions Test which can determine if an individual carries the characteristics of a successful founder. Some key attributes include: fluid intelligence, openness, agreeableness, and emotional stability, among others. Depending on which characteristics are most prominent, an individual’s personality will align with one of six “personality profiles” listed above.
Below, we’ve matched some of the most successful founding teams to our DNA characterizations, by analyzing online information , their compatibility, and discerned the reasons why their partnerships were harmonious or discordant. Below are some co-founders who demonstrate the power of a great team. These co-founder soul mates may or may not last, but their relationships leave behind lasting impressions on the world.
Sergey Brin and Larry Page both majored in computer science, receiving degrees from the University of Maryland and University of Michigan. They crossed paths in 1996 during graduate school while attending Stanford University. During school, they began working on a research project together. Little did they know, this project would go on to be one of the biggest companies in the world.
Upon first meeting, both found each other off-putting and spent the day arguing. In an article by Biography, Page remarked:
I thought [Sergey] was pretty obnoxious. He had really strong opinions about things, and I guess I did too.”
Brin agreed, but admitted, “ Obviously we spent a lot of time talking to each other, so there was something there.”Eventually, the two would find a shared passion in exploring the mathematical properties of the web. While there was disagreement on the direction of the project at first, the two would settle for the intimidating task of organizing the web. With some success, Page and Brin attempted to sell their company. Though they received reasonable offers, neither wanted to sell to a company to those who did not share their ideas for Google’s direction. It turned out to be the right decision. Currently, Larry Page is still the CEO of Google, handling day-to day operations and overall direction of the company, while Sergey Brin manages GoogleX, investing and searching for new opportunities in special projects.
Paypal founders Elon Musk and Peter Thiel had diverse early backgrounds. Elon Musk was born in Pretoria, South Africa, but would later move to Toronto, and finally the United States. He earned his degrees at the University of Pennsylvania for both Economics and Physics. One of Musk’s early entrepreneurial pursuits during college involved launching an unofficial nightclub in a 10 room frat house with housemate and founder/CEO of the Founder Institute, Adeo Ressi.
Peter Thiel was born in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany. Like Musk, Thiel also immigrated to the United States and would finish his studies at Stanford University. Thiel graduated from Stanford with a B.A. in Philosophy and a J.D. in law. He also established a newspaper called “The Stanford Review”. Needless to say, with contrasting backgrounds and accomplishments during their college years, it didn’t seem likely these two would later cross career paths.
After college, the one similarity that brought the duo together was their shared passion for innovating for a better society. In 1995, Musk moved to California to begin a Ph.D. program in applied physics at Stanford, yet dropped out almost immediately in order pursue his entrepreneurial ventures in renewable energy, outer space, and the internet. Unlike Musk, Thiel would complete his studies at Stanford and consequently, make his dreams of allowing ease in worldwide transactions come to fruition. While Thiel prepared for the launch of his first business Cofinity in 1998, Musk worked on a similar project, X.com, an online financial services and email payment company. Fast forward to two years later, the two would find each other neighbors and eventually merge together under the name Paypal. Initially, Musk took on the role of CEO, but would later step down to Chairman and hand over the reins to Thiel.
After Paypal’s success, the Musk and Thiel moved on to create separate companies. Musk continued his pursuit in renewable energy with Tesla, while Thiel recommenced his work with software and services through Palantir. Though they no longer work together, the two still see each other in positive light. In an article by Motherboard.Vice, Thiel compliments both Musk and his ventures, saying “[Musk] is very smart, very charismatic, and incredibly driven - a very rare combination…” He comments on Tesla as “the most exciting example of a company showing determinate optimism today.”
Bobby Murphy and Evan Spiegel not only attended the same University, these two also joined the same fraternity. Two years ahead of Spiegel, Murphy finished his degrees in mathematical and computational science. Spiegel was a product design major and would eventually drop out in order to work on Snapchat fulltime. Snapchat, however, was not actually the first time this pair collaborated. Pre-Snapchat, Murphy hired Spiegel to help design a college-based social network. Though this project did not harvest as much success, the seeds of a lucrative partnership were planted. In a Forbes article, Murphy commented on their time in college together, saying
We weren’t cool, so we tried to build things to be cool.”
Snapchat was originally a school project the two worked on together. Most people initially ridiculed the idea of disappearing messages. In an article titled, “Snapchat: The Biggest No-Revenue Mobile App Since Instagram”, Spiegel explained, “people are living with this massive burden of managing a digital version of themselves. It’s taken all of the fun out of communicating.” Despite many believing Snapchat would not prosper as a popular social media platform, they continued on building their user count. Facebook eventually made a $3 billion dollar cash acquisition offer. Not wanting to work under anyone else, Spiegel and Murphy denied the offer and kept ownership. Evan Spiegel continues to be the public face of the company while Bobby Murphy works behind the scenes as chief tech officer. As of this year, Snapchat is valued at $10 billion, making Spiegel and Murphy the two youngest billionaires in the world.
While co-founders typically keep their relationship platonic, Julia and Kevin Hartz found an even stronger connection. This pair actually tied the knot before starting their successful company. Julia originally had no formal background in tech or startups. Graduating from Pepperdine University in Southern California with a focus in television production, she would later become a manager and production developer for multiple large networks. Kevin, on the other hand, attended both Oxford and Stanford University for degrees in History and Applied Earth Science. Coincidentally, the two would meet during a wedding ceremony for Julia’s first boss at MTV and Kevin’s old Stanford classmate .
Post college, Kevin worked extensively with startups and even started a couple of his own prior to meeting Julia. One of his more successful companies, Xoom.com, announced its public debut in 2013. It sold 6.3 million shares during its public offering. Kevin also had his hand in early-stage investing with companies including PayPal, AirBnb, Trulia, and Pinterest. Julia was equally accomplished in her field as an executive with popular channels like FX and MTV. After meeting Kevin, her exposure to the startup world persuaded Julia to change career paths. She found allure in the speed at which new technology and ideas were developed in the Silicon Valley. In “How I Made It: Eventbrite Co-founder Julia Hartz,” Julia makes a comparison between her previous profession and current career:
Hollywood is still very much who you know. The tech industry is built on a different foundation. I focus on what somebody has done or what they know more than who they know.”
Though wary of the challenges, Julia found comfort in Kevin’s extensive experience in startup companies.
In 2006, the couple started Eventbrite, with Julia handling business operations and Kevin handling the product. Eventbrite recently reached a valuation of $1 billion and continues to grow in user count. Now a much larger company, Julia and Kevin still allot the success of their company to their employees whom they fondly call “Britelings.” They continue to be hands-on with the company and hold weekly “HeartToHartz” employee meetings every week.
During their earlier years, Anne Wojcicki and Linda Avey shared similar passions in Biology; Avey graduated with a B.A. in Biology at Augustana College, while Wojcicki graduated from Yale with a B.S. in Biology and studied molecular biology at UC San Diego. Each would spend respective time in the healthcare division. Prior to 23andme, Avey spent 20 years in sales and business development in biopharmaceuticals. Comparably, Wojcicki worked as a healthcare investment analyst for biotechnology companies for 10 years.
Their first encounter took place during Linda’s time with Affymetrix, a genomic analysis company. Wojcicki had been attempting to set up a meeting with Affymetrix as well, but found difficulty in getting a response. Upon learning this, Avey made the first move and invited Wojcicki for dinner. In a TED talk at Brussels, Avey recalls the encounters between the two happening more frequently. She realized the two shared an “intense interest in giving individuals a way to navigate their own genomes.” The two would run into each other for some time before making the final leap into creating a company. Upon their final chance encounter at a TED talk conference, Avey recalls, “Right before we jumped into our cars to drive home, she told me she wanted to ‘do’ this new company with me. I quit my job at Affymetrix the next month.” After this meeting, Avey and Wojcicki would grow their company as co-presidents for the next three years. Currently, Anne Wojcicki still serves as CEO of 23andme. In 2009, Linda Avey left 23andme to focus on her work with Alzheimer's, as well as Curious Inc., a personal data discovery platform.