Finding the right cofounder in Singapore

8 minute read 


We’re using the Sleek blog to shine a spotlight on our Sleek journey by having our team share reflections on different parts of the rollercoaster that is start up life. Our aim is to be more authentic and transparent about building a startup from the ground up so that we can help others who are also on the journey.

This week we’ve got an interview with Julien, part of the co-founding team and CEO at Sleek.


Quick intro. Who are you, and what startups did you have before this?

I’m Julien and I co-founded Sleek a year and a half ago. I’ve been in Singapore for ten years now, and before Sleek I had another startup that I created on my own called 4xLabs that dealt with money changing.


How did you meet your current set of cofounders?

I met Adrien Barthel [Chief Growth Officer] at a business event for tech entrepreneurs. I’ve known Oriane Parasie-Dubocq [Chief Compliance Officer] for about eight years through common acquaintances.

I’d already had the idea for Sleek – it seemed to me there was an opportunity in the space for about 5 or 6 years after dealing with traditional corpsecs in my previous companies. It occurred to me that it was a completely unoptimised industry in terms of technology.


And did you ask them to be your cofounders? How did that work?

It seemed extremely obvious. I never asked the question “do you want to be my cofounder?” to either of them –  we just got extremely excited at the same time about this opportunity.

When I think back on it, it seemed like an incredible alignment of interest and timing. Adrien was on his way out of Sephora [after selling his startup to them in 2015]. Oriane was a lawyer but had been working on her qualification to be a corpsec with a view to set up a business herself. And me – we had just welcomed our second child into our family – and I was ready for my own venture again.


It sounds all pretty fateful. Did you do any conscious or deliberate evaluation of them as possible cofounders? I see many listicles of ‘10 Things You Must Ask Your Cofounder Before You Begin’, etc.

No – it was very informal. I knew what I was lacking in my skill set and I saw those skills very clearly in both of them. Oriane bought the legal aspect and technical skill. In Adrien I saw a sort of nuclear power and energy that I thought was fascinating – I was very attracted by that high level of energy. I remember thinking, ‘Who is this guy!? He’s such a hustler.’ I thought, ‘with him selling, we can’t fail.’


And how long did it take for you three to coalesce and get the business going? Particularly with you three not knowing each other beforehand?

I introduced Adrien to Oriane, and we spoke over lunches, beers, and coffees. It took six months for us to incorporate our company and we really got started about two months after that, so 6 – 8 months of ideation.


Have you had any disagreements with your founding team? If so, how did you resolve it?

Disagreements? No. Frustration? Yes… but we’ve been candid and honest with each other. It’s clear what each of us does. In the end we each owned our sphere of responsibility – for example I wasn’t going to decide on a legal or compliance point and overrule Oriane – we respect each other this way.


What was it like dividing up equity among three co-founders?

In terms of equity – we didn’t have any disagreement. It was a case of “how much would you like to put in?” and that made up the split. We were lucky, I think – it was very natural. I also made sure that we created a clear path out of the company if one of us wanted to leave half-way that would still compensate the founder for the risk taken and make it easy for someone else to join by freeing some of the equity.

Founder vesting is good – planning for the worst is good. We had a shareholder’s agreement outlining how much each would keep if we were to part ways. It felt very clean, and good to do it from the start.  

I’ve had messy shareholding arrangements in the past and when you’re fighting, it’s not the best time to discuss the pre-nup. [laughs]  This time it was a case of “I want to work with you on this project, and if after X months any of us discovers we don’t like it, we can leave and the company can sustain itself.”


How did you decide who was the CEO of the company? Adrien was CEO at the inception but you recently stepped into this role and he shifted to the Chief Growth Officer.

When we began I asked Adrien to be the CEO – even though I’d been a CEO in the past. We were an early-stage startup and we needed a hustler CEO to grow and get people to buy into our vision. In reality there was not really a hierarchy at that early stage, although in theory I think that someone needs to have the final say if there is disagreement.

Since we’ve moved into a new phase of growth, internally our focus has been making sure we have the processes and structure in place to scale sustainably, and so after one year we [Adrien and I] decided to change roles. I give him a lot of credit for putting aside any ego with that might come up with stepping into a different role. Ultimately though, both our loyalty is to the company and making sure that, at every stage of the company’s growth, the person with the right skill-set is at the helm.


What do you think about the increasingly common combination of tech + business cofounder for a technology startup? Particularly given your founding team are all non-technical founders.

Ideally yes, you would like a team of perfectly complementary skill sets, but this can be overcome. Having a base level of competence in areas that aren’t your core skill set can be useful – for example, I’m not a coder but I still know my way around a lot of the tech stack and can talk to developers.

You can also make space for people to join early with an equity stake, and bring in talent at other points of your journey. There are ways to work around it. It’s wrong to wait for the perfect balance – that perfect balance might not ever happen.

But the most important part is that you have the right team as a whole – that changes a lot of things. You have people to share the joy and the doubt with – the whole journey is easier when you you’re building something with a team you completely respect.


So do you think it’s possible to build a company without co-founders?

It is. It’s lonely. I would say that it’s likely only possible once you’ve become experienced in building companies and you’re familiar with how to mix talent and build a strong team.  


Would you personally build a company without a cofounder?

I would, if there was an opportunity I couldn’t ignore – but it’s more fun with cofounders. Without the metrics of valuation or other ‘success’ statistics – it’s just better with a team.


And for those entrepreneurs who haven’t found people in their network – do you recommend ‘speed-dating’ or Find a Cofounder events?

Yes! It’s great – I think it’s great. A lot of the good things that happen are through random face to face meetings. So I think that any chance to widen your network with like minded people who are also enterprising is useful.

And the thing is – once you factor in everything else, like ‘does this person have a complementary skill set to me? Is the timing right? Would I like to work with them?’ – once you add in each layer, the probability gets smaller and smaller that someone meets the mark. So you will likely need to meet hundreds of people before you meet the one.


Difficult, but not impossible! And so to close – any last tips for people about to start on their venture?

Alignment of values is huge. Honesty, loyalty, that sort of thing. With each of my cofounders I thought, “this is someone I’m going to spend several years of my life working extremely closely with – I don’t want to see an a**hole every day for years.” Making sure that you have the same values also makes it easier as you grow the company. It’s like parenting – when you share a united front to employees and investors, it makes life easier.

As an entrepreneur we’re also privileged that we get to choose who we work with – so make sure you like the person! Make sure it’s someone you can have a drink or dinner with when it’s time to celebrate.

Sleek’s vision is to create an ecosystem of support for entrepreneurs by equipping them with the things they need to manage their business and providing a network of other entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors. If you want to learn more about Sleek, get in touch.




Other articles that might interest you

Related content

Get in touch.

Start your Sleek journey today

Ready to grow your business to the next level?
Let us help take the load off your shoulders so you can continue doing what you love.

50GB data with unlimited talktime for only S$18/month and additional add-ons!

Circles.Life is a telco provider in Singapore that provides no-contract mobile plans. Their end-to-end integrated service allows customers to manage and design a plan that best fits their needs.

Enjoy the following offers:

  • 50GB data with unlimited talktime (SIM-only) for S$18/month

Once you are a Sleek client, you can access this offer.

Get access to investors, corporates and business advisors

TiE Singapore is a vibrant eco-system of Asian entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists and industry professionals – TiE has 61 worldwide chapters, 10,000 Startups, 80,000 Attendees and 15,000 members.

Benefits:

  • Exclusive access to an ecosystem of advisors, mentors, investors, corporate heads via discounted programs
  • Expand your reach beyond Singapore by attending all local and global events
  • A chance to showcase and pitch your ideas to industry leaders and investors
  • Network and build connections to engage with business experts, thought leaders and fellow entrepreneurs

Form your US company with Stripe Atlas

Stripe Atlas is a safe and easy-to-use platform for forming a US entity by removing obstacles that are typically associated with starting a company such as – legal paperwork, bank lines, obscure fees and regulatory barriers.

Enjoy the following benefits:

  • Get a discount from SGD $200 onwards on an Atlas incorporation
  • Use their services from anywhere in the world
  • An opportunity to connect with other founders and learn from experts

Enjoy up to SGD $1,425 off on eBay store and promotion fees that are incurred in the first quarter of your operation

eBay is a world-leading online marketplace that facilitates consumer-to-consumer and business-to-consumer sales.

Sleek clients can benefit from a special promotion when they:

  • Sign up as new sellers on eBay
  • Offer a minimum of 100 SKUs in their online store

You will be eligible for:

  • 100% reimbursement of the store and promoted listing fees for up to 3 months, capped at SGD $1,425, subject to promotion T&Cs

How do you qualify?

  • Leave your contact details in eBay’s New Seller Form
  • eBay’s New Seller Account Management team will review your application and reach out to guide you on the account setup
  • Once approved you will receive a promotional email from your Account Manager

Enjoy your stay with Hmlet by getting corporate rates

Hmlet provides a custom designed, fully furnished, affordable and hassle-free coliving housing solution, perfect for entrepreneurs arriving in Singapore.

Enjoy the following benefits:

Get 10% when you stay with Hmlet in Singapore
Perfect opportunity to expand your network with Hmlet’s diverse community
Enjoy dedicated assistance from Hmlet Community Managers
Flexible month-to-month membership plans

*For new members only

Promotion is valid for any length of stay up to one year.

Contact Joanna at +65 8462 6446 to get the discount.

Gain instant access to the top coworking spaces around Singapore with FlySpaces Passport


FlySpaces provides short-term flexible workspace solutions, fully-furnished and fully-serviced, for entrepreneurs, SME’s, and corporates setting up their businesses in Southeast Asia.

Enjoy the following benefits:

  • 1 month free trial of Passport Starter package and 25% off the first month of any Passport package
  • Flexible packages that scale with your business
  • Dedicated assistance from a FlySpaces Space Expert

*For new members only 

Get 3 months free trial

Metigy is the world’s leading Digital Marketing Decision Support technology made for SME Marketers. Metigy’s AI platform helps SME’s achieve 2x-3x improvement quarter on quarter.

  • AI-powered real-time insights and recommendations platform
  • Set objectives and follow Metigy’s content recommendations
  • Planning calendar, content library and social analytics
  • Prioritised to-do list and approval workflows

Once you are a Sleek client, you can access this offer.

Join Hubspot for Startups and get up to 90% off your Hubspot subscription in your first year

We’re excited to partner with HubSpot for Startups to offer their program designed specifically to help startups grow and scale better, and faster – at a startup-friendly cost! Read on to learn more about the program.

What is the HubSpot for Startups program?

  • Education resources and tailored training
  • Professional software, startup pricing
  • Integrated platform for startups

Who is eligible?

Any startup that is a current customer of Sleek and meets certain funding criteria is eligible for this exclusive program! See below for more details:

  • A startup with under $2 million in funding: ou are eligible for up to 90% off HubSpot software in your first year, 50% off in your second, and 25% off ongoing.
  • A startup who has raised over $2 million in named funding up to and including Series A: You are eligible for up to 50% off in your first year, and 25% off ongoing.

*The HSFS startup-friendly pricing is only applicable to net-new HubSpot Hubs or upgrades of existing Starter subscriptions to Basic, Professional, or Enterprise products; customers may not apply the startup program pricing to existing Basic, Professional, or Enterprise Hubs.

Once you are a Sleek client, you can access this offer.

Get 10% discount on Google Workspace licenses

Google Workspace offers custom email for your domain, online storage, shared calendars and a range of collaboration tools to increase the productivity of your team.

  • Gmail for business
  • Gsheets, Gdocs, Gslides and Google Meet
  • High security and online file storage

A 10% discount is provided for all new domains and transfers.

Once you are a Sleek client, you can access this offer.

Get US$5,000 in AWS Promotional Credits

*Only available for technology startups

Amazon Web Services provides startups with low-cost, easy-to-use infrastructure needed to scale and grow any size business.

You will be eligible for:

  • US$5,000 in AWS Promotional Credits valid for 2 years
  • 1 year of AWS Business Support (up to US$1,500)
  • Opportunities to qualify for additional credits 
 
Note: Companies may not be eligible for AWS Activate Credits if they previously received a similar or greater amount of credit. Companies may be eligible to be “topped up” to a higher credit amount if they previously received a lower credit.  For more information, please review the AWS Activate Terms & Conditions.
 
Once you are a Sleek client, you can access this offer.

Manage your company spending with a 3-month free trial

Spenmo is a B2B spend-management platform with physical and virtual card offerings. We aim to digitise expense processes and help companies eliminate fraud and overspending.

Enjoy the following benefits:

  • Free physical and virtual cards for up to 15 employees and 2% unlimited cashback for the first 6 months
  • $100K worth of free local and international invoice payments
  • Free cash reimbursement software

Once you are a Sleek client, you can access this offer.

Get S$10,000 in processing volume credit

Stripe is the best software platform for running an internet business. Stripe provides the technical, fraud prevention, and banking infrastructure required to operate online payment systems.

  • Fast, reliable and secure
  • Faster eligibility period for custom processing rates
  • Priority betas and special event access

Once you are a Sleek client, you can access this offer.

Free multi-currency account for businesses and online sellers

WorldFirst is an innovative global payment platform, helping businesses move money around the world faster, easier, safer and cheaper. 

Sleek clients can enjoy the following:

  • Open up to 10 international currency accounts for free: SGD, USD, GBP, EUR, CAD, AUD, NZD, JPY, HKD & CNH
  • Receive, hold and make payments in international currencies
  • Open your account for free with no monthly account fees and no annual transfer limits
  • Access great exchange rates
  • Manage your global finances all on one platform
  • Instant FX transactions between currency accounts

Do note that WorldFirst only works with online sellers.

Open a Singapore dollar business account from anywhere.

Wise is a global technology company that’s building the best way to move money around the world. Whether you’re sending money to another country, spending money abroad, or making and receiving international business payments, Wise is on a mission to make your life easier and save you money.

Enjoy the following benefits:

  • Enjoy S$2,600 fee-free transaction
  • Get bank details in 6 currencies: SGD, GBP, EUR, USD, AUD, NZD
  • Sleek customers get access to the Wise Platinum debit Mastercard
  • Get support from our global team in Singapore, Europe, and the US