How to Pick a Co-Founder
Many companies went down because co-founders did not match well in their skills, attitude or vision. Remember the epic Facebook co-founder stand-off? You don’t want that in your business.
In this article, we will show you (1) why you need a co-founder, (2) what to look for in a co-founder, (3) a six step process for finding a co-founder, and (4) mistakes you better avoid when looking for a co-founder.
WHY YOU NEED A CO-FOUNDER
Maybe you’re one of those few entrepreneurs who came up with an idea on their own. If you could come up with any idea alone, why can’t you see it through to fruition alone too?
Most entrepreneurs, once they have an idea, are hesitant to share it with someone else. Makes sense, since with all the pain comes all the glory, but counter-productive too, as you’re holding back your start-up’s success with this thinking. Hence, here are some reasons why you need a co-founder.
Gap between what you can do and what the company needs
While there are some people who can do it all, most of us aren’t that lucky. You might be great with detail-oriented tasks, but fail miserably when it comes to the creativity. Wouldn’t it make sense to find a co-founder who is creative to help bridge this gap between what you can do, and what your company needs? Herein lies the first reason you should be looking for a co-founder – so that the leadership team has all the skills (collectively) to take the company forward.
Division of labor is increasingly important
Once a start-up takes off, there are one million little things to take care of. Most can be divided into one of two categories: sales and programming or back-end and front-end. Having each co-founder pick one side of the business and focus their efforts on it is on excellent way to halve the workload from the get-go, leaving each person with a clear set of responsibilities. This can help guarantee that neither end of the business is ignored which is pretty common when one person is working on both sides alone.
Starting a business is a tough job and a co-founder can be the emotional support you need along the way. Mentors are great for advice and your family and friends will always be there as support, but a co-founder is in the trenches with you, so to speak, and knows exactly what you’re going through. Don’t disregard the importance of having a sounding board that not only sympathizes with you, but has a stake in whatever issues might be troubling you.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A CO-FOUNDER
If you’re looking for the unicorn equivalent of a co-founder, you’re fresh out of luck. Just like you don’t have every skill in the world, neither will your co-founder. There are a few things you should keep in mind while searching for a co-founder though.
Look for accomplishments, not education
Looking for a Harvard or MIT graduate with a 4.0 GPA who has five years of working experience in sales and marketing? You might be putting more importance in the wrong indicators of success.
A grade-point average only says so much about a person. An education from a top-notch university might look great on paper, but what matters the most are the experiences they had while there.
According to Brian Hamilton, co-founder and chairman of Sageworks, “The company or school that a possible co-founder came from pales in comparison to what the person did while they were there.”
Look for the right attitude
More important even than their accomplishments is the attitude with which they tackle their job. Setting up a new business will bring along with it challenges as well as difficult decisions. Look for someone who approaches these with an open mind. Flexibility is also important in a start-up because sometimes the best-laid plans go up in flames, and it’s important to just roll with it and figure out how to keep going.
Don’t look for a friend, look for a business partner
While it would be great to have a co-founder who you are best buds with, it’s not the sole criterion on which to base your decision. More important is finding someone you respect, and who respects you, whose business ethics and values you jibe with, and someone you can have open discussions with.
Remember we talked about the gap that exists between what you can do for the company, and what it needs for you? Look for a co-founder with skills complementary to yours. This includes both soft and hard skills.
Alignment between your visions
Once you start having conversations with possible co-founders, you will soon discover that some of them share the same passion for the start-up as you, or have a similar vision for it. Your co-founder and you need to have a common vision for the start-up, to ensure there isn’t dissension amongst the ranks later on.
6 ESSENTIAL STEPS FOR FINDING A GOOD CO-FOUNDER
So now that you’re convinced you need a co-founder, how do you get started?
- Identify skills you lack, and need in a co-founder, for a balanced leadership team; The first thing you must do is look within yourself. What skills do you lack? Make a list of things you are great at, and not-so-great at, as this is going to help you pick the right person that can be the yin to your yang.
- Decide on a number; How many co-founders are you looking for? Two co-founders is ideal, but three is common too. The answer lies in your startup’s purpose, plan, and the kinds of skills you need to collect in the leadership team. Talk to your mentor for help in deciding this number.
- Meet new people; Now that you have a number in mind, and know the skills your perfect co-founder must have, start meeting new people. Attend networking events in your area, talk to people with similar interests online, or even ask your mentor to introduce you to entrepreneurs they might have come across. You might be surprised that there actually exist websites that allow you to find a co-founder. Yep. There are online dating equivalent platforms for co-founders like CoFoundersLab, Founder2Be, and FounderDating. At this point, it’s a numbers game. The more people you meet, the more chances there are you will find the right co-founder.
- Shortlist; Hopefully, by this point, you have a number of people in mind for the role. Make a shortlist. Looking at personalities, accomplishments and working styles, shortlist the people who you think would be perfect for the job. You might not know everything you need about each person, but you should have enough information to make a first list to work from.
- Invest time in getting to know the shortlist; Setup meetings over coffee with the people you have shortlisted. It is important to invest time now in getting to know these people, so that you can further shortlist those who would work well with you.
- Pick someone, and have the talk; Once you have the right person in mind, sit down and have the talk with them. List out your concerns about their role, your ideas for profit-division and even stock options. It is important to be upfront with the business side of things as early as possible to avoid complications later on.
MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN LOOKING FOR A CO-FOUNDER
Finding the right co-founder isn’t an easy task, but don’t make it even more difficult. Avoid these mistakes at all costs.
- Thinking you don’t need one; If you’re still not convinced you need a co-founder, go back and read the first half of this post. There are many reasons why you absolutely need someone along with you in your journey to build a successful start-up, but the biggest reason is that you cannot do everything by yourself.
- Approaching it like any other position; You’re not hiring a HR manager. You’re looking for someone who is going to help you create the start-up. They will have a similar stake to yours in its success, and so you need to hire someone who has the same passion and vision you do.
- The right timing; Find a co-founder when your idea is still in the planning stages. As time goes on, you will start getting more desperate to find the right person, and in the meantime miss out on opportunities since you don’t have the co-founder to fill your skill gaps.
You may think that the most important thing you need for a successful start-up is the right idea, but you’re wrong. An idea is great, but without the right tools to implement it, you will walk away with nothing. The right co-founder can be the perfect addition to your start-up, serving as your emotional support when needed, and bringing with them passion and a detailed vision for the company.
Here is some more food for thought from Paul Lee.
Some more insights in how to pick a co-founder are described in this awesome presentation.
Comment below, how are you looking for a co-founder or how did you find him? What were your learnings?
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