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5 Tips to Go from Friends to Successful Startup Founders

By Amit Shaked, CEO and co-founder, Laminar

Google, Facebook (now Meta), Sprout Social, Showpad, theSkimm, Thrillist and Warby Parker all have one key fact in common. All were launched by founders who were already friends. In fact, some 22% of founders turn to those closest to them for help financing their big new idea. They're even more likely to turn to friends to launch startups; some, like Airbnb, even go so far as to go into business with their roommates. 

Now you can add Laminar to the mix of startups where friends became founders. My co-founder Oran Avraham and I met at university at age 14. As the youngest kids in the class, we naturally became best friends and then vowed to start a security company together. Oran was the first to show early promise in this field, identifying the first iPhone 3G baseband vulnerability at the age of 17. 

So, why do friends so often collaborate on startups? Founders turn to friends because they deeply trust them and are already familiar with their values and work ethics. For this entity that you will be spending a large amount of your time on, you want to go into it with someone who is also all-in to eat, sleep and dream the very same ideas. 

With that in mind, I want to offer five tips for friends seeking to become successful co-founders. Or founders seeking to find the right friends to tap to help them in their journey. These tips are born both out of my own experience founding Laminar with my best friend Oran and research I have done along the way. Running a business means I learn new things everyday, but here's a list of what I have gleaned so far: 

1.  Have a shared vision: It's a lot easier to sell a renegade idea, such as carving out a new market in cloud security, to a friend than a stranger. It's even easier when two or more friends have the desire to do something transformative.

So it was with Laminar. Oran had been working in the security space since age 14, participating in hacking communities. And I like solving technical challenges, ranging from doing math equations and relaxing with puzzles to solving complex industry problems.

We both saw the challenges that the public cloud was creating. We both also anticipated that the fast pace of public cloud data growth would create the biggest issue in security to date and would need to be solved in a radically new way. 

I tried to find an off-the-shelf solution to protect sensitive public cloud data, but none existed. Oran was experiencing the same problem at his company. After speaking with more than 100 CISOs about this issue, we both realized that this was an incredible opportunity. We knew that a public cloud data security platform had to provide agentless and asynchronous monitoring to avoid compromising data flow and performance. This vision was so compelling that we quit our jobs to begin work on the new company in 2020. 

2.  Develop or find someone with complementary expertise: When you look at startup founder biographies, they typically bring different expertise and skill sets to the mix. This makes sense. When you have a company with less than 10 employees, every single person should bring something new to the table.

Oran and I both began our careers in the Israeli Intelligence Corps' Unit 8200 where we learned about signal intelligence and code detection. After the service, we went our separate ways. I joined a late-stage startup Magic Leap, focusing on developing algorithms and learning how well-funded companies can scale quickly. Oran joined the newly launched company Medigate, where he was the head technology architect.

We also have different and complementary skills. I can see the bigger picture, such as what's happening across industries and core client businesses. Not surprisingly, I'm called in for many of our sales calls. Oran has a perfectionist's mindset to building great technology. As a result, he obsesses over technical roadmaps and code to ensure that our product is always improving.

With our related, yet different experiences, we have a wider field of vision and are able to solve more problems. However, we're still able to speak the same language, from growing and scaling the business to solving technical challenges.

3.  Be able to staff one of three key roles: To begin life and navigate the pitfalls of early product development, fundraising and staffing, startups need employees who can grow into executive, often C-level, leaders. Startups need a CEO, with the second role, for a technology startup in particular, being filled by at least a CTO. Beyond that, the next hire will depend on the company's industry, business model and stage. For example, it's not uncommon for startups to hire a CPO next, to build out products and services, or find a V&P of R&D to maintain the pace of technical innovation.

At Laminar, I serve as CEO, and Oran is our CTO. Without the need to outsource early IT development, we were able to quickly prototype and launch our solution to protect public cloud data.

Having a friend in a fellow executive role speeds up communication and work processes. You understand how the other one thinks, which reduces the prospect of misunderstanding the other's motives. In addition, you likely spend personal time together after work, which is also time you can use to share and brainstorm new ideas.

4.  Take joy in your work and have an incredible work ethic:

For Oran and myself, and all of Laminar, we're driven not just by the desire to build a thriving business, but by our belief that we are helping companies protect their customers, businesses and future. That sense of fulfillment sustains us as we maintain the aggressive pace of work at a rapidly growing company.

Whether you believe that you're transforming the world, greening the planet or helping companies keep their public cloud data safe, your work needs to have meaning and purpose. That belief will sustain you through months and years of extended evening and weekend work hours.

5.  Be willing to give each other feedback: There are books on how to hold difficult conversations that are both honest and constructive. Some leaders recommend using a compliment sandwich, with a compliment, followed by a request for behavior change and closed out by an affirmation of the person's importance to you.

All of this sounds well and good but isn't realistic, when it's 3 a.m. and something important isn't working. Life, and business, can and will throw you unexpected challenges-both early and late in the startup lifecycle. For example, when we were preparing the first release of our platform, we had some challenging discussions and had to make decisions without all the necessary data in place. The important thing was that our entire executive team was on the same page and supported our decisions. Oran and I had some real discussions, some hard discussions, and it was having a relationship based on open communications, trust, and a deep wellspring of friendship that helped buoy us through this, and will do so for future difficult moments. 


Oran and I have been friends for more than 10 years - and we plan on going the distance. It's been a joy to work side-by-side with a best friend on innovative technology, see it come to fruition, and watch investors and customers embrace our vision. I hope that this article will help the next Oran and Amit decide that they too can go from friends to founders. Together.


Published Friday, August 19, 2022 11:00 AM by David Marshall
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