I distinctly remember the late-night conversation between me and Scott as we were filling out incorporation documents for Dartlet. The company was little more than a seedling, and night after night we were making all of the major founding decisions to structure the business.
Finally, it came to that sensitive and pivotal moment of splitting shares and defining positions.
“Should we divide shares 51/49 and pick a CEO?” I asked. “You know, to ensure that one of us can break a stalemate?”
There was an extended pause filled with the hum of deep breaths, rustling papers, and heavy thought.
“You can have it.” I broke the silence. “You’re older, you have gray hair, your resume has more than a decade on me. I think it makes sense.”
I could sense a rising discomfort from Scott on the other line.
Finally, he responded.
“I think we should be 50/50. Equal partners. No CEO.”
“…Can we do that?” I asked, a bit taken aback by the model I thought was required.
“We can do whatever we want.” Scott answered.
I reflect back on this critical moment, and the selflessness and humility exercised by Scott to intentionally relinquish the control that was offered him, and to insist upon the friction and beauty of consensus. Now many years later, and it is “consensus” that is a fundamental variable of our methodology. We cause people to work, talk, think, laugh, struggle, and argue together, and reach a conclusion. Together.
Dartlet’s leadership is propped up by this very same premise. We have no single authority. No pharaoh. No individual at the top of the pyramid. We are both Co-founders and founding members, and the line for CEO is left proudly blank.
How do we get anything done? One might ask.
At Dartlet, Scott and I reach consensus on a major decision, or we don’t move. It’s that simple. If we stalemate, we table the discussion and gather more intel. We believe that our two brains, instincts, experiences, and insights—when forced together—will outperform either set of capabilities standing alone.
Who does our team call when they have a founder-worthy question? Call either one of us—we’ll deliberate and bring back the answer. We’re effectively married…
And isn’t that the way of it? You hear entrepreneurs cite constantly, “Business partnerships are like marriage.” Yet, my marriage doesn’t operate like a dictatorship. My wife and I are peers and teammates. We make decisions together, leveraging the collective experience of the whole.
Meanwhile, this is a very unorthodox approach in business. The vast majority of organizations in our modern, American economy operate on the understanding that one person must stand above all the rest. That there must be a “shot-caller” to pass down final verdict.
Perhaps it seems like it would be “too much work” to bring every executive-level decision to a dyadic counsel. While I won’t deny that our partnership takes extra intentionality, work, sacrifice, time, and all the rest, its value has been exponential. It’s this purposeful friction that has produced so much value for Dartlet as I look back over our progress since leaving shore.
So, is it a nice idea or is it actually working? Well, with a year-over-year revenue line that pitches upward with the majesty of Yosemite’s El Capitan, and a team of the brightest and hardest working minds in the industry all collaborating in the very same spirit as their co-founders, I’d say it’s working just fine.