We’re raised from small children to think about who we would like to marry and spend the rest of our lives with.
But no one prepares you for the momentous decision of picking a co-founder for your startup business.
Some co-founders start out as friends who then decide to start a business together. Some co-founders choose one another for their varied skills.
There are many different ways to go about finding and choosing your co-founder.
One thing I do know is that you really want to think about this decision before you jump into it.
As you can see, the vast majority of startups have one or two partners. Almost 80 percent of startups have one or two founders, while just 23 percent have three or four founders.
No matter how many founders you have, there’s one thing that I know is true. You better be able to get along.
If you can’t get along with your co-founder and business partner, your business is much less likely to succeed.
Just like a marriage, when partners don’t get along, the divorce is messy and emotionally stressful for everyone.
So let’s go over my tips and tricks for choosing the perfect co-founder for your business. That way, you don’t have to make the same mistakes that others have made before.
Yeah, yeah, I know that this one seems obvious. But it’s still important.
If you can’t trust your business partner, you better walk away right now. It will only get harder to separate the longer you’re in business together.
And this is a quality that might be harder to find than you think. American’s trust in others has steadily decreased over time, leading us to an all-time low today.
If those alarm bells are going off when you meet your potential co-founder, then it’s not the right person. Run away quickly.
If you have found the person that you think is your future co-founder, work on building trust and getting to know one another.
Don’t settle — choose perfection
You wouldn’t settle for marrying someone who wasn’t “the one,” would you? Don’t settle when choosing your co-founder, either.
Finding the perfect co-founder will take time, but it’s better to find “the one” than to go through a messy break-up later on.
If you’ve found someone who you think is your new co-founder, be real with yourself when assessing their potential faults and the drawbacks of working with that person.
Have a conversation about where you foresee potential pitfalls and discuss how you’ll handle them if they occur.
If you and your new co-founder can get through those tough conversations, then it’s probably OK to move forward.
Get as close to perfection as you can, and for those qualities that aren’t perfect, have a frank conversation to see if you can find a resolution before you begin.
Please note that I didn’t say that you need a co-founder who will compliment your skills.
While we all like a high five for our strengths, what I mean is that you need a co-founder who has different strengths and skills from those that you have.
You want to make sure that you and your co-founder have different skill sets, but skills that complement one another.
For example, if you’re an idea guy, you’ll need someone who can handle the marketing, selling, and raising capital.
For those developers who are great at building awesome websites, but not great at networking and hiring employees, you need to find a co-founder who can pick up the slack.
When each co-founder has different strengths, you’ll have different knowledge bases that work well together but don’t step on each other’s toes.
Each of you has skills and strengths that make up for the other partners’ weaknesses.
Building a startup is tough.
No matter how close you are with your co-founder, creating a business from scratch is going to strain your relationship.When the strain starts to show itself, have empathy towards your partner.
When the strain starts to show itself, have empathy toward your partner.
Empathy isn’t considered a skill that most entrepreneurs have, so you may need to work on enhancing this aspect of your personality, but it will be worth it.
Empathy will help you and your co-founder to recognize that you’re both humans who make mistakes, get stressed, and can’t always be perfect.
Showing empathy might be interpreted as a weakness to some, but it actually helps you generate trust with your co-founder.
Your partners will recognize that you care about them as humans and not just about the business.
Have a plan to handle disagreements
Create a template of steps for working through disagreements. Planning ahead for potential problems will have a two-fold effect.
1. You already know how to react and respond to the disagreement when it arises.
2. The disagreement is less likely to arise because you have a game plan.
Opposites might attract
This might be a cliche in the world of dating and marriage, but for co-founders, it just might hold true.
Look for someone who will balance your skills and might be able to do the things that you can’t or aren’t good at.
There are a lot of skills and traits that are necessary as an entrepreneur. You might as well find someone who possesses the skills that you don’t.
For example, if you’re a young tech entrepreneur, maybe you need someone who has been in the startup industry for a long time and is great at raising capital through their network.
Finding your opposite in the startup world just might mean that you’ve found your match.
Have similar work habits
When you’re choosing a co-founder, you want to make sure that there are some similarities between you two.
You want to make sure that your co-founder is willing to put in the same amount of work that you do, work similar hours, and communicate in a similar style.
If you like to work a traditional schedule and be home to spend time with your kids by 5 p.m., it might be difficult to work with a co-founder who likes to roll in at noon and does her best work in the middle of the night.
Entrepreneurs traditionally work long work weeks. You want to make sure that your co-founder is willing to put in the necessary time.
Discuss your work habits and be honest with one another when you’re considering joining forces to create a startup business.
If you don’t match and you can’t find a compromise, your relationship just might not work.
Communication is key
If you can’t communicate well with your co-founder, you’re not going to be able to get anything done.
To start off with good communication, you need to know if you have similar communication styles and preferences.
Some people prefer face-to-face meetings, while others are fine to communicate over email and a messaging service for all but the most important things.
Not everyone prefers the same mode of communication.
If you and your co-founder strongly prefer different channels for communication, it might be difficult to get things done in a timely manner.
As well, each person has their own style of communication and tone.
Some people are direct communicators, which means that they can come across as harsh.
Others will focus on asking questions and getting around to the point slowly.
There isn’t a right or wrong style, but you need to make sure that you and your co-founder communicate easily and get along well.
During your first meeting with your co-founder, go straight for the tough questions. Get those questions over with in the beginning to find out how you communicate.
If you both get frustrated during the first conversation or can’t communicate your ideas clearly to one another, it’s likely that this isn’t the right business relationship for either of you.
Even if you and your co-founder don’t agree, you should be able to discuss and communicate.
Check financial and emotional stability
This will not be an easy conversation to have with your potential co-founder, but consider it practice for all of the other difficult conversations you’ll have down the line.
If you’re going to be working closely with this person, you need to know what’s going on in their life and how stable they are.
Find out how soon they need a paycheck to become financially stable.
Many entrepreneurs are successful and make a lot of money — but not all.
It will be an uncomfortable conversation, but you must also find out what their home and family situation is like.
In addition to this, you need to be honest with yourself and your potential partner about your own financial and emotional stability.
This is a two-way street, and you both must be honest with yourselves and each other if this relationship is going to work.
Which leads me to my next tip.
Agree to honesty
You have to quickly get comfortable with being honest and blunt with your co-founder.
Honesty is a pertinent quality in leaders, including amongst each other.
You’ve got to be able to talk about the tough stuff and be honest with your partner or you won’t be able to get anything done.
Without honesty, you’ll both feel like you’re always walking on eggshells and worrying about stepping on one another’s toes.
Agree to be fully and bluntly honest with one another from the beginning, and you’ll immediately eliminate a lot of potential communication errors.
When you’re looking for a co-founder to work closely with and found a business with, you need to choose someone that you like.
I get that skills are important, and I don’t disagree, but if you don’t like your co-founder, it’s going to be a lot harder to work with them
I believe that your co-founder’s character and morals are often more important than their skills.
Skills can be taught. Compatibility, trust, and personality can’t.
Bonus points if you’ve worked with your potential co-founder before. If you’ve already worked together, you likely know how well you mesh and where your potential problems are.
I will add here that a co-founder is like your college roommate. Living with your best friend in college often ends in a ruined friendship instead of glory and fun.
Be careful about choosing your best friend as your business partner.
I’m going to keep this one simple.
Good enough isn’t good enough when you’re choosing a co-founder. Just isn’t.
If you aren’t compatible, just keep looking and hold off on choosing your co-founder until your find the right person.
Have a prenup
Yes, you do need legal documents.
The fifth most common reason that startups fail is that they have the wrong co-founders. Ouch.
Legal documents help to protect you and your co-founder from losing more money in your venture than is necessary and prevents you from screwing the other one over.
The traditional business prenuptial agreement is called founder vesting.
This document should lay out each partner’s financial stake and investment in the company.
It will also lay out the process of dissolving the company in the event of a dispute that cannot be resolved.
And, I’ll morbidly recommend, if you’re going to have a falling out, do it as early as possible.
The earlier that you recognize your potentially unsolvable problems, the easier and less costly it is to get out.
Learn the other side
When you’re looking for a co-founder, you need to know enough about what they do and the skills that you need to be able to know if they actually know what they’re talking about.
For example, if you’re the tech guy and you’re looking for a partner who scales, you need to learn enough about scaling to find out if your potential partner really knows what they’re talking about.
Learn some of the verbiage and important skills, then quiz your potential co-founder on what you’ve learned.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get clear answers.
Check for self-sufficiency
Your co-founder should be completely self-sufficient. Otherwise, you’re just hiring another employee.
Make sure that you trust your potential co-founder enough that you’ll feel comfortable letting them work on their own and make critical decisions.
You’re not looking for an assistant. You’re looking for an equal partner who can help you make decisions and grow your business to become successful.
There are many reasons that startups fail. Don’t let incompetency be the reason that your startup flounders.
If the person you’re considering for your co-founder needs a lot of hand-holding and support, they might not be the right person to become your partner.
Steps for finding your co-founder
Now that you know who to choose, how do you find them? I’ve got some tips for that too!
New businesses are starting all the time, so you want to make sure that you’re finding someone who will help you reach success and create a standout business.
Finding the right person is one thing, but even just finding someone who would be interested in becoming a startup co-founder can be difficult.
Try out these tips and techniques to get started on your search.
1. Write a job description.
Writing out a job description for what you’re looking for in a co-founder will help you to isolate exactly what skills and attributes you’re looking for in a potential partner.
It will also help your network to pass along the information and for potential candidates to know whether or not they are the right person for the job.
2. Network with your business connections.
Finding a potential co-founder is all about using your network. When you’re looking for a partner, you cannot network enough.
Make sure that you’re asking everyone that you know and have ever worked with to find out if they know someone who would be interested in joining your team.
You never know who will know of someone who is looking to create a startup and is the perfect match for your business.
3. Look for interest at local colleges.
This might sound strange, but many professors have the knowledge and the time to work on side projects, such as co-founding startups.
Professors also have a large network and many connections, so they might know of someone with just the right skills.
4. Join “dating” sites for business partners.
Yep, these really do exist.
Just like on dating sites, you can create a profile about yourself and your business and then go looking for a match.
Check out other people’s profiles to find someone who has the right skills and personality to become your new business partner.
Be sure to look for keywords that are typically found with those looking to become startup co-founders, such as their previous job titles.
5. Agree on roles.
Once you have found your potential co-founder, you need to make sure that you both agree on the role that each of you will play in the founding and growth of the business.
Before you begin the hard work on the business, you need to make sure that you’re both in agreement.
6. Consider a move.
Unfortunately, there can be a regional aspect to creating a startup company.
As you likely already know, there are specific regions of the country that are hotbeds for startups and business in general.
If you live in the middle of the country, far away from these networks, you might need to consider a move if you’re serious about finding a network and potential co-founder.
7. Hire a lawyer.
Once you know that you both agree, it’s time to draw up the paperwork.
Hiring a lawyer and creating legal documentation to solidify the things that you’ve discussed can help you both to work on any final kinks that are still in the process.
These are just a few of the basic steps that you might follow to find your perfect co-founder and create your dream startup business.
No matter who choose to become your co-founder, you need to make sure that it’s someone whom you trust and like.
Skills and the best network in the world will not save your business if you simply can’t stand to be in the same room as your co-founder.
Finding the perfect co-founder is no easy task, but I hope that these tips will help you to think about who you want to become your new co-founder.
How did you know when you found your perfect co-founder?