After a lot of hard work, brainstorming, researching, and testing, you’ve finally found the right idea to build your startup. You have the plan, the desire, and the energy to start, but it has become very clear that you’re missing something — you need a co-founder. Someone who can complement your skills, act as a sounding board or a voice of reason, and help you lift your startup idea into reality.
Having two founders on the team, rather than one, significantly increases a startup’s odds of success. It is clear that two fully invested founders are greater than the sum of their parts. Depending on your startup’s focus and your professional background, you might struggle to find anyone willing to go into business with you or you may be flush with options. Either way, here are the key considerations before tying the business knot with someone:
Define your core values
Whether it is hiring an employee, selecting a vendor, or choosing a co-founder, using a solid and well-defined set of core values is a great place to start. Your core values determine your priorities, goals and the decisions you’re willing to make. Are you super competitive or more of a collaborative person? Do you want work-life balance or are you thinking business 24/7? Focus on the values that make you truly different from others. They should be who you are, not who you hope to be.
Assess your own strengths and weaknesses
We all have strengths and weaknesses. The key is becoming aware of them. Develop good strategies for leveraging strengths and mitigating weaknesses. Highly successful people have dialled this in and figured out where they excel and where they struggle; then they surround themselves with the right environment and right people. While it might be tempting to find a co-founder who is just like you, it’s better to find someone who complements you in the right way to benefit the future of your company.
Make sure the other person can check their ego at the door
One of the key tests for a potential co-founder is making sure they can put aside being right in order to do what’s best for the partnership. This can be tough when you’re looking for someone very technical and knowledgeable. This type of person can be brilliant, but if they have little EQ, they’ll be difficult to work with over the long haul. Being humble, open to new ideas, and willing to collaborate on decisions is key to making a successful co-founder.
Ensure you both have the same level of drive and motivation
You don’t need to agree to work 80-hour weeks or be in the office until 2am every day, but you want to ensure that both of you have similar commitment levels.
Discuss how you will deal with adverse circumstances
Every business and every partnership will go through tough times. Fundraising difficulties, cash flow shortfalls, employees leaving, and clients terminating contracts will all happen and they will put strains on the partnership. Make sure you and your co-founder have a strategy for dealing with tough times and are able to weather the storm.
Discussing these topics upfront is a great investment of time. The best business partnerships are successful not because of the heights they achieve, but because of the lows, they survive. While you’ll never find the perfect co-founder, taking some time to ponder these questions will ensure that you find the best one in the time you have.
Find the right combination of co-founders
Startups will be more successful when they have two balanced partners. Many founders make the mistake of finding a co-founder who is exactly like them, rather than finding someone with complementary skills. Ideally, startups should mix skill sets. For instance, companies shouldn’t have two people that are both tech-focused and don’t understand the business or marketing elements of running a startup. Make sure that if one co-founder is tech-focused, the other has the business acumen to complement the other.
Just as a startup should mix skill sets, they should do the same for personality traits too. For example, having two people who are afraid of public speaking won’t benefit the startup since they will have to pitch to investors, speak to clients, present in front of accelerators, and more. If one co-founder is shy, it’s best to have another person who is more outgoing and has confidence in speaking in front of people. Each of the co-founder’s strengths will support the other.
Find a partner you can trust
In addition to balancing personality traits, it’s essential that founders find partners they can trust. Trust, like Stephen Covey once said, “Is the glue of life. It is the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It is the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
Shared passion isn’t enough to ensure a successful founding partnership
Running a startup brings out the best and worst in people. A large percentage of startups fail due to inter-team conflict— not poor planning, but conflict between personalities that don’t mesh. This friction is often highest among co-founders, especially in a startup.
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:
- You already know how to react and respond to the disagreement when it arises.
- The disagreement is less likely to arise because you have a game plan.
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.