‘I realized what I really needed was a founding team’

As someone who's run multiple businesses, Deborah Choi ​​knows the importance of mapping out what you need in your dream partner – someone who can fill gaps in your knowledge, complement your strengths and help you realize your potential.
Deborah Choi 16x9 hero

As a founder of five businesses, Deborah Choi has learned the hard way about how best to build a founding team. With her first venture, an online platform that resells vintage clothing, Deborah lived through the headaches that come from failing to define co-founder roles and responsibilities. With her second venture, a digital parenting magazine called Mater Mea, she experienced how not being aligned on your business vision can result in co-founder breakups. 

Later, when she launched a plant-care platform, Horticure, as a solo founder, things were great – until the business started growing. ‘I was exhausted constantly, as I had all the major strategic decisions – like the business model, growth strategy, fundraising strategy, operations and logistics – on my shoulders. I realized what I really needed was a founding team – who had skills that were complementary to mine and who shared my vision – to lighten the load.’

Run fast and adapt

She found that in her co-founders for Founderland, a social enterprise that supports women of color business owners in Europe, which Deborah dedicates half her time to. ‘Together, we've been able to run fast, fix problems, become better leaders and attract amazing partners – all much faster than if I'd attempted to build what we're building alone.’ 

One standout quality of her co-founders has been their openness to admit the things they don't know, ask questions, share notes and, ultimately, be curious. ‘We're also aligned on the bigger mission of the organization, while supporting each other with our personal aims, too.’ 

She continues: ‘One of the greatest joys of being a founder is the mirror that's presented to you. You have to look at yourself and face a lot of things that maybe you wouldn't have liked to: like your communication style or the way you approach deadlines.’ 

Finding the perfect co-founder really starts with a self-audit. ‘You have to ask yourself: where am I now? How do I want to grow and improve as a person and as a leader? And what are my visions for this idea that I have?’

For our ‘25 big lessons from small business’ series, we scoured the world to find inspiring people to share the lessons they've learned from running their own companies. Click here to read the other stories.

This special feature was first published in Courier issue 45, February/March 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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