Starting a business is hard. Really hard. And if you’re going solo, think again.
Startups with solo founders take 3.6 times longer to reach scale stage, compared to a founding team of two, and they’re also 2.3 times less likely to pivot, putting them at risk of failure.
Inevitably, you need co-founders to work with to make your startup a success. But choosing the wrong co-founders can be disastrous. It’s basically like a marriage between two or more people, who need to remain committed, work hard and stick together through the ‘trough of sorrow’ most startups go through, in order to make their vision a reality.
Co-founders reduce the stress that comes with being an entrepreneur. By being able to ‘talk things through’, you come up with better solutions to tackling your challenges. They’re the ones really with you, as everyone else involved has their own agenda (investors and advisors included) and won’t be as committed to your ‘vision’. There’s also the benefit of splitting expenses and the investment required to get your startup off the ground!
But how do you find great co-founders to take this journey with? It’s certainly not a decision to be taken lightly, and the consequences of having bad cofounders can be devastating. That’s why you need to be smart about selecting co-founders!
Here are five smart ways to look for great co-founders:
Who Should Be Your Co-Founder?
Before you go out looking for a co-founder, you need to know who you’re looking for! Scope your needs and understand clearly what you’re looking for in a co-founder. What skills and personality type would best suit you? Are you an introverted developer looking for an extroverted sales guy? Or are you an aggressive business developer and ideas guy, looking for a cool headed project manager?
The ground rules/questions you must address here are:
A. Does this person understand your vision? This is an absolute must. You should be passionate about solving the same problem and should ‘want’ to make it happen together. If your interests clash too much, there’s bound to be a rift along the way. So it’s best to talk about your ‘why’ and the sort of things that interest and excite you beforehand, so you know what you’re in for.
B. Do you guys like each other and feel you can trust each other? Can you shake his/her hand and feel a sense of reassurance that you’ll be there for each other no matter what? Trust is the foundation for not just business partnerships, but any relationship in life in general. It’s also the hardest to ‘test’ in the beginning as human nature is unpredictable. But try to get this covered, by talking to each other. Use your intuitive abilities and ‘feel’ more than you ‘think’ about this. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you’ve found trust.
C. Do you have complementary skills? Dave McLure says the ideal startup has three roles on the team: “Hacker, Hipster & Hustler”, with the hustler focusing on customer development, the hipster focusing on design, and the hacker focusing on development. Define who you’re going to be, and what role your co-founder is going to take upfront, so there’s no confusion going forward.
D. Does your co-founder have energy, intelligence and integrity? They’re the three main qualities every co-founder needs. As Warren Buffet says, if this person is intelligent and has integrity, but no energy, you’ll end up with a lazy, but honest and smart person. If he/she has integrity and energy, but no intelligence, you’ll end up with an energetic and honest fool. And if your cofounder has energy and intelligence, but no integrity, you’ll end up with a very smart crook!
2. Where Should You Find Good Co-Founders?
This brings us to the next important consideration: where do you actually find such people?
A good starting point is tapping into your personal network. Think deeply about who it is you imagine yourself working with in your own network. Does anyone come to mind? Get on your LinkedIn and Facebook account, and look up your first degree connections. If you see anyone you feel would make a great co-founder, immediately send them a message to catch up if you aren’t already in touch. Tell your friends and family you’re looking for a co-founder, they may be able to connect you with the right person.
If there’s no-one in your personal network, you’ll have to rely on external sources. Sometimes, this can work out to be a gift in disguise, because by working with someone you don’t know personally, you can keep personal feelings aside and focus strictly on business. A friendship born out of doing business together, is usually better than a business being born out of a friendship, although there’s no hard and fast rule of course.
Sign up for co-founder dating events at your local co-working spaces and startup communities. They’re the equivalent of ‘speed dating’ and can often be a ‘hit and miss’ strategy to finding a co-founder, but you never know if you find the right one.
Hackathons are great for working together over a weekend, and give you a bit of an insight into what it’s like working with the people in your team. You can always catch up later if you feel there’s someone on your team you really want to work with.
Put up advertisements in startup newsletters and co-working space notice boards, letting people know what you’re looking for. You’ll be surprised with the responses you can generate if your ads are well written and have a compelling reason for someone to join you!
3. Why Should You Work With Co-Founders?
Before entering a partnership, make sure you understand exactly why you’re entering the partnership in the first place! Good reasons to be co-founders would be:
- You want to work together and understand the ‘why’ of your business.
- You’re not just in it for the money. You believe you’re moving the world from 0 to 1.
- You see an opportunity in the market and believe you’re the best people to make it happen.
- Your combined resources put you in a powerful position to make it all happen.
Just like all great businesses start with the ‘Why’, all great partnerships should also begin with the why and should be for the right reasons. Asking each other questions to get clear on your reasons is really going to help you with understanding your co-founder(s) at a deeper level before making a commitment.
4. When Should You Look for Co-Founders?
There’s no straight answer to this question. The best time to actually look for one is when you don’t really need a co-founder. Focus on forming a genuine human connection first, before having any serious discussions. Things will naturally evolve into a partnership and when things feel right, you’ll be ready to make it happen. Well, this is one approach and often does work well.
The other approach is to find one when you’ve been working on your idea for a while, and you’ve got traction. This can be a great time to bring someone on board, because you’ll have a clearer sense of where you’re heading, and can negotiate equity terms in your favour, giving you more control and autonomy over your business, since you’ve already put in the hard yards. Ideally, you’ve cracked product-market fit and are in a position to scale so when your co-founder does come on board, you can focus on your individual strengths.
5. How Should You Gain More Confidence in Each Other And Decide To Take The Plunge?
There are many ways you can build more trust and confidence in each other before taking the plunge. Start by doing mini projects together, where money isn’t the primary goal, but yet, a part of the project’s goals. By doing this you’re allowing yourself to get to know your co-founder in a relaxed setting, giving you insights into each other’s working style and attitude towards money, with not much to lose if things didn’t work out.
Notice the small things about each other. Like does he/she pay you back on time if you’re owed money? Does this person make decisions based on long-term goals or short-term greed? What drives this person?
Answering such questions can go a long way in building the foundation of a great business relationship.
Invest time in meeting as many people as possible, and don’t be shy of asking questions that matter. By paying attention to the above considerations, you’ll optimize your chances of working with the right people on your team. As Steve Jobs said: “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”