Fixing the method of Triumvirate organization to make it more useful

Last year I was lucky to get some time to chat with RISD's President John Maeda after he spoke at GigaOm Roadmap.  We chatted about typography and his presentation.  Then I shared the idea I am working on with two other business partners.  And how we set up with a company of three executives.  He instantly recognized the structure as a triumvirate.

triumvirate (from Latin, "triumvirātus") is a political regime dominated by three powerful individuals, each a triumvir (pl. triumviri). The arrangement can be formal or informal, and though the three are usually equal on paper, in reality this is rarely the case.

John continued by saying that the beauty of a triumvirate is as long as two agree then you move forward.

One of the more famous triumvirate's now is Google's three executives.

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google has referred to himself, along with founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin as part of a triumvirate, stating, "This triumvirate has made an informal deal to stick together for at least 20 years"

I then told John we modified the Triumvirate method by requiring unanimous support for a decision to be made, and the company is divided into 1/3 ownership.  John's response, "but doesn't that make you slower."

It may slow things down a bit, but it makes sure that every person is heard for their opinion, and for the overall success we consider the others view.  

An example of the problem being addressed is illustrated by the Minority Report's precogs requiring only two votes to convict someone for a crime.  The two male precogs could ignore the female precog and move forward which made the establishment happy, ignoring the issue that the decision was wrong.

Anderton seeks the advice of Dr. Iris Hineman (Lois Smith), the lead researcher of the PreCrime technology. She explains to Anderton that sometimes the three precogs see different visions of the future, in which case the system only provides data on the two reports which agree; the "minority report", reflecting the potential future where a predicted killer would have done something different, is discarded. According to Dr. Hineman, the female precog Agatha is most likely to be the precog that witnesses the minority report.

After two years of using this modified Triumvirate, we have established a higher of trust and understanding within our partnership.  Sometimes, we debate an issue, and we work together to come up something that works for all. Think of it as a peer review for decisions.  We all want the company to succeed, and even though you are in minority it doesn't mean you are wrong.  The majority may be wrong.  Sometimes are made, then someone says it really doesn't make that much difference to me, I just wanted to bring up an issue.  I trust you guys to make the right decision.

Having three minds think about customers, technology, and other things to run the business is something we have gotten so used to it is hard to think of having a typical hierarchical structure.  Oh yeh, we don't have any backseat drivers from Angels or VC either.  They would upset the balance of power to be equal.  Can you imagine a VC putting his money in and we tell him you get a vote, but your vote is no better than any one else's.

There are many things that we don't need to have a consensus on.  The industry relationships/partnerships and operations is my responsibility.  One guy focuses on the technologies and operations.  Another focuses on analytics, operations, and finance.  We all are concerned about operations which I guess is the glue that pulls everything together and we can measure alternatives against.

I am writing this post to share the idea of a modified triumvirate and maybe one of these days I'll run into another company that uses the same structure, but I am not holding my breath.

The power of two founders is well known.  Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Google.

BTW, there was an attempt for a third founder at Apple.  Someone to settle the disputes between Wozniak and Jobs.

Apple's lost founder: Jobs, Woz and Wayne

Updated:   07/26/2010 03:59:17 PM PDT

He was present at the birth of cool on April Fool's Day, 1976: Co-founder — along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak — of the Apple Computer Inc., Wayne designed the company's original logo, wrote the manual for the Apple I computer, and drafted the fledgling company's partnership agreement.

That agreement gave him a 10 percent ownership stake in Apple, a position that would be worth about $22 billion today if Wayne had held onto it.


"It was at that point he said, 'Let's form a company,' " Wayne recalls. Like a quarterback drawing a play in the dirt, Jobs came up with the idea of giving himself and Wozniak each 45 percent, the final 10 percent going to Wayne, who would mediate disputes between his headstrong partners. "That would resolve any problems forever and ever," says Wayne, who drew up the contract on a typewriter. There was no such thing as a word processor yet. They were about to invent it.