For Svetlana Tarnagurskaja and Tom Dibble-Burge, co-founders of The Dot Collective, being able to fully trust each other with everything from decisions and ideas, down to the conversations with investors, has been the catalyst to building their successful consultancy. Here, they share how they developed this vital building block for business.
Trust is massively important for us at The Dot Collective. It’s essential for our relationship as co-founders and the success we’ve achieved so far.
We trust each other to make important decisions independently which speeds things up – but for issues where the other person would rather be aware, we’ll know when to raise it. Even if we don’t agree on everything, there’s a shared understanding that we’ll always have a conversation to reach a decision that works for both of us.
Our implicit trust means we’re sure we’ll always figure out any problems. This isn’t always the case elsewhere – one of us has worked in businesses before where no-one trusts each other at all. So maybe it’s not an essential element for businesses to function, but it definitely is for one with a mission like ours.
Much of this trust comes from the fact that we’ve been colleagues in the past, so we have experience of how each other perform in a professional setting already, and how our minds work. Svetlana probably could have started the business on her own, but she says otherwise – probably due to that connection.
She says: “It’s our first venture but we’ve worked together before and know each other really well. We were such a good team together, we knew we had to stick together. That really doesn’t happen too often.”
There are definitely positives to this. Lots of potential relationship issues had been ironed out already, which meant it was far easier to make the difficult decisions that are essential in the early stages of launching a business, rather than worrying about working each other out.
We are founders with very different backgrounds. Tom spent a decade or so working in investment banking for a number of large US corporations, before realising that it was causing a lot of stress to keep them happy. On the other hand, Svetlana comes from an entrepreneurial family and always had a side hustle alongside her corporate career – and a successful one at that.
Despite these different experiences, we share core values that in our opinion, are non-negotiable for two people running a business together. After both re-evaluating our jobs and the companies we were working in, we knew that there was a way to do things differently.
We wanted to build a modern engineering consultancy company by treating people fairly and equitably, rather than following old-school management consultancy practices or, as Tom says, “to create something much more interesting and enjoyable for people to be in every day.”
These shared values are another cornerstone of trust which drew us together and became part of our mission for The Dot Collective, while strengthening our mutual respect.
A big part of realising our ethos was by creating a network structure rather than a top-down pyramid. It’s why we invested in an equity management platform so early on, which has really helped to attract a diverse team that lives and breathes our values.
Svetlana is incredibly proud of the fact that we employ people from 14 different nationalities. “It brings a wide range of benefits,” she says. “Our approach has changed the vibe, giving everyone an entrepreneurial mindset – everyone feels a personal responsibility to get things over the line and it feels so much more rewarding.”
Of course, despite plenty of trust, respect and good faith, facilitating a structure like this – or indeed a co-founder partnership – does require some level of binding agreement. It’s also essential as you start to move into the merger and acquisitions space, or start looking to raise external investment, helping you to build trust through accountability with lots of new stakeholders.
Since starting the business we have always ensured there is written documentation that represents our interests, and platforms like Vestd’s Agile Partnerships system help to set goals so the expectations of founders and key hires are absolutely transparent, which is key. We are always revising our documentation as the needs of the business change, but we’ll always maintain this level of rigour and corporate governance.
It’s also a great opportunity to harness each other’s complementary skills and mindsets. We’ll always allocate tasks to suit our individual strengths, and as founders we bring something different to the table.
Thinking back, doing so is how this business launched in the first place – in the run up, we had been talking about it for quite a while. For every excuse one of us had for why it wasn’t a good idea, the other had an answer and eventually, we ran out of excuses. We respected each other’s understanding of the practicalities of it all, so it gave us the confidence to join together – neither of us would have done this without an existing fundamental level of trust.
While we started our business with nothing in 2021, we now have more than 30 team members and more than £2m in revenue. And most importantly, as Svetlana would put it, “I feel like I’m in the right place and not seeking out the next side-hustle.”