Without a doubt, starting a company is a huge task, rarely ever possible to be achieved by a single person. Hence, the search for a partner begins – however, finding the right co-founder is just as difficult and important as any other of the boxes that you have to tick at the beginning of your startup journey.
Two heads are better than one – your co-founder delivers a fresh perspective on any issue you have to face, and when clashed against your initial ideas, you never know what kind of solution you might brainstorm. Where you fall short – they cover. When you feel demotivated – they cheer you up. If you’re ill – they stand guard. Similar work habits, a shared vision and perfect ethics – what’s not to like?
Choosing a cofounder will be one of the most important decisions you’ll make when setting up your venture.
Picking a co-founder is your most important decision. It’s more important than your product, market, and investors.
— Naval Ravikant, Co-Founder Angellist
What Should You Look For?
Another set of eyes and pair of hands is by definition a significant relief – it halves your workload, right? Furthermore, it isn’t the case of a simple mathematical division by two. Bringing in a co-founder to help you bring your brainchild to life allows the two of you to get the best of both – outline your key abilities and areas in which both of you excel, and in no time you will find that the financials that you dreaded doing are done effortlessly by your partner, whilst they are relieved from their despised marketing activities.
Prepare for sacrifice on your part – if you’re having no luck finding a co-founder in your area, consider moving to a more startup-friendly environment like London, Berlin or Silicon Valley.
Find a person that you get along with, but make sure they aren’t too similar – the crucial condition is to choose somebody who complements your business persona. A good test you can do on your own is fill out the Business Model Canvas, realise the parts you feel safe with in, et voila – the remaining areas are the traits your co-founder should display. Play to your strengths, and let them ace the rest!
As for a quick test of your compatibility, you could attend a Startup Weekend or simply try to build something small – together. Events like that will validate how good a team the both of you make, especially in the face of stress and time pressure – and if you don’t, you just saved yourself a lot of trouble down the line!
There are a few points you might want to consider in advance. As much as a startup journey with a “partner” sounds romantically idealistic, make sure you have everything on paper. To establish trust is essential, so however great buddies you and your co-founder have become – always have clear terms about the cap table, salaries and any other parts of the agreement discussed in advance. Just like you wouldn’t marry a stranger – you definitely want to have some history with the person in question!
Regardless of you being partners, there is no room for both of two of you at the very top – make sure to establish who is the CEO, and holds the final decision-making power.
Especially in international settings, it might be extremely tough to even begin the search for a co-founder. Locally, it is recommended to discover your startup scene from A to Z, find out about events, hackathons or startup weekends relevant to the kind of person you might be looking for and try your luck chatting up strangers and looking for recommendations within your own network. However, when all else fails, you might just find what you’re looking for – sites like CoFoundersLab, Founder Dating or even Facebook startup groups offer a helping hand in the exhausting process of finding someone who shares your vision.
Networking for investors is a good reference point for networking for co-founders – often the same locations and events offer a plethora of opportunities for finding both.
Where Can I Get One?
What’s important is the “when”. The best case scenario is the moment you have your first “aha!” moment, you initiate the process of preemptive candidate screening – people you have had the chance to work with even on small projects, friends’ recommendations and other potential co-founders should be on your radar – that way you don’t end up with someone picked “on the spot” and have enough runway to evaluate a relationship before it goes sour.
Treat it no differently than you would a proper hiring process – prepare by writing a job description with all the must-have (technical? sales?) and nice-to-have skills. Know what you’re looking for by reverse engineering the typical search between people, instead of specific features.
Naturally, you might have an idea that has been in development for quite some time and may feel absolutely confident about the direction you’d like your startup to take. But bear in mind – it is still just an idea! Be ready to pivot, for the team matters so much more than the initial vision.
We’re human, after all – and that matters a lot when choosing “the one”. Times can get tough, especially when you’re building something that hasn’t been done before – and all you’ve got is hope that it will work out. Having another person that shares your vision can be the “make or break” factor. Furthermore, search for a history demonstrating grit and devotion, accompanied by an ethical, emotionally intelligent character.
Mutual encouragement and sharing positive energy is invaluable, both in terrible scenarios when everything goes wrong and when everything is just a-okay. Positive reinforcement adds to motivation and creates a desirable start-up culture for your future employees to discover. In terms of numbers, “the more the merrier” doesn’t apply to the number of cofounders – two is the perfect number that grants unanimity, whilst every extra person adds to absolutely unnecessary startup politics.
A gem of wisdom – if your idea revolves around a specific industry, e.g. sharing economy, you should target ex or current employees of Uber, Deliveroo or any other company that hires for the same reasons you want to take that other person onboard.
If All Else Fails
Here comes the sad part – breakups. Just like you would sign a prenuptial agreement with your soon-to-be life partner, you ought to check your backup options. Vested options are similar – they require a time buffer from the co-founder before claiming any shares, and they are only entitled to them after having worked with you for a predefined time period. Before breaking up, ensure that if such a significant part of the project disappears, you will be able to do it on your own.
To conclude, whilst it is not easy job to find a partner for your startup – there is no way around it. Ensure the other person is equipped with interrelating skills that cover the bases where you fall short – and vice versa. Remember though – they are just as much your business partner as your emotional one. Having support on both fronts makes for a great co-founder.
Having no co-founder in 99% of cases will be detrimental to you personally and your business. Having the wrong co-founder will be just as bad – only in 100% of those cases. It is necessary to put in a lot of effort before choosing “the one” – make sure you do it right.