An open letter to all entrepreneurs

blog - 8 min.

CEO and co-founder of the female outdoor clothing brand Astrid Wild, Maria Paulsson Rönnbäck, shares useful tips and advice on how others should go about selecting your co-founder when building a startup.

CEO and co-founder of the female outdoor clothing brand Astrid Wild, Maria Paulsson Rönnbäck, shares useful tips and advice on how others should go about selecting your co-founder when building a startup.

As an Antler alumni, the most common question I’ve been asked is “How does the co-founder matching process work?” Finding a like-minded co-founder with complementary skills, hunger and tenacity is difficult and now that I’ve experienced both working for Antler as a Marketing Manager and then participating in the Stockholm program as a founder, I have been able to gain some insight into the process of finding an ideal startup partner.

While I can’t speak on behalf of everyone, I can share what I learned from my own experience, and what I would suggest for others interested in the program from the perspective of matching up to their entrepreneurial equal.

As part of the first Stockholm program, I paired up with Jemina Pomoell, a 33-year-old business woman from Finland. Pomoell has seven years’ experience as an investment banker, and has completed six successful IPOs. 

I’m often asked: “How do you know that Jemina is your ‘perfect co-founder?'” 

My answer is I don’t. 

It’s only been seven months together and we’re still in the early stages of having launched our company. But what I do know is, I trust my own gut-feeling and there have been some great clues throughout the program that shows we make a great team.

Here’s what else I can tell you:

1. Be yourself

You want to start a company and you need a strong team to make it happen. If you think you’re better off alone, your not going to make it. The best way to identify your potential co-founder is to first identify what you need to move to the next stage. In my case, it was pretty clear. I had what I believed to be a great idea but needed someone who also believed that the idea could turn into a highly profitable business and was willing to jump on that train, not later but now.

Secondly, I am slightly allergic to numbers and investors. It doesn’t make sense to me at all, I mean I have a Master’s degree from one of the best business schools in Europe — but I just don’t like numbers. I love great stories and leading great teams (I’m a Protagonist — ENFJ — who can blame me). 

But investors tend to love numbers. And I know it’s vital for all companies to get the financials right from the get-go in order to receive a capital injection. The thought that a person who had been working at an investment bank must love numbers and investors, instead resulted in that she ”loves data” and proved to be kick-ass when it comes to raising capital. 

So, take some time to yourself and think about what you need and who you are. If you don’t know who you are, take some personality tests and discuss the results with friends, family and former colleagues who you trust, to give you a more nuanced view of yourself.

If you still don’t know what you need, think about what made you want to be an entrepreneur. Is it that you yourself don’t have a startup idea, then look for someone with a great one. 

Is it that you have an awesome idea but aren’t sure how to translate that idea into a business plan? Then partner with someone with a strategic mindset.

If you think along those lines I’m certain you’ll get team diversity straight away.

Also, practice talking about who you are and what you need. Try to refrain from the simplistic definitions, such as: ”I’m an engineer so I need a business person”, and vice versa. Really think about what YOU need. Say it out loud five times every morning if you have to.

2. Don’t be afraid to commit

There is no perfect co-founder. When you meet someone who you:

1. Are impressed with, meaning they seem to rock at their “spike” (marketing, coding, designing products) and;
2. Get along with (he or she doesn’t annoy you), just go with that person and try it out. Worst case, you realize it doesn’t work but then you just try someone else. It’s not the end of the world. However, try to stick to one person at a time.

For me, it was enough to know that:

1) Jemina really wanted to start a company. She had a personal runway of 18 months. That’s commitment!

2) She dared to say out loud that she didn’t have much startup experience but was very hardworking. That’s being humble and realistic.

3) She seemed like a very polite, kind and warm-hearted person with high integrity. All personality traits that I adore.

4) She did investment banking for seven years. She is highly intelligent

So we chose each other (actually she popped the question during a coffee break and I almost fainted, SHE wants to work with ME, wow what an honor). And then we stuck to that.

3. Invest in the relationship

Learn how to solve conflicts. Building and maintaining a relationship takes time and investment. As of today, it works perfectly well for Jemina and I, but again I have no idea if this relationship will last a lifetime. Of course I hope so, but she seemed to get a bit scared when I said I wanted to work with her/this for the rest of my life.

What we do is very simple. We practice bi-weekly “retrospective meetings,” which forces us to point out what’s not working in our business and our partnership and then we work to solve it. 

Also, do something fun together once in a while. It doesn’t have to be every day but it could be good to do something that you both like, in our case it’s going to the gym. Remember, this is not your new friend or date, you don’t have to hang out like that. You’re business partners. Just make sure to laugh, that helps in all relationships.

Famous last words

I’m going to quote one of my role models, Isabella Löwengrip, a successful Swedish entrepreneur who has inspired me greatly along the way:

Ask for advice, but carefully choose who to listen to. People don’t tell you ”lies” because they want to hurt you and your company, they just don’t always know more than you but they feel obliged to answer since you asked them.

Finally, it’s your responsibility to go out there in the world and find what you want for yourself. Antler gives you access to an international network of brilliant people devoted to making the world a better place, and to fulfill your dreams so use that opportunity wisely. But, if you still don’t know what you’re looking for, here’s another great quote from my second top Swedish entrepreneur and singer-songwriter, Per Gessle:

“Listen to your heart.”

I wish you the best of luck on your entrepreneurial journey..


Maria Paulsson Rönnbäck

Ps. if you or anyone you know who is interested in nature and wildlife and might want to purchase beautiful outdoor clothing, designed for women, by women then follow our Instagram and share our website Astrid Wild.

About the author:

Maria worked as a Marketing Manager for Antler Stockholm before joining their program as a cohort founder. She has more than 15 years of experience working with marketing and recruitment, previously COO and CMO at tech start-ups Sqore and 29k. Over the years, she has recruited and managed over 100 people in her teams, and built online talent sourcing and recruitment platforms that have attracted and screened more than 800 000 people worldwide. Her personal interest in behavioral psychology led her to carry out a motivational coaching diploma education, which she uses to motivate herself and people in her surroundings.

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