Finding your Co-Founder: Dos and Dont’s!

How To Find The Ideal Co-Founder
February 6, 2019
Interview with Arthur Gopak
February 20, 2019

Starting a company is a complex process, for which finding and choosing a suitable co-founder or co-founders can be a challenge. This brief guide will seek to provide you with the necessary insights regarding how to take on this task and emerge with a dynamic and successful founding team. To that end, there are two fundamental aspects you must keep in mind when engaging in the search: shared values, and complementary skillsets.

What Are Shared Values?

When we talk about shared values, what we mean is that you and your co-founder(s) should share the understanding of what is important in your lives, be it in general contact with other people, or regarding how to do business. A set of values could be, for example: honesty, transparency, openness, motivation, and support. Without going into too much detail about each individual value, let’s consider honesty. If you value honesty as a trait that should be shared and understood by your fellow co-founders, this means that you believe it is very important that people share information and act honestly whenever they do business, regardless of whether they are communicating with a client or internally with other members of the company. If one or more of your shared values are not respected and observed by a potential co-founder, this could (and perhaps should) be a deal breaker, as you may find that working with this person would not be healthy for you, nor would it produce the results you expect from the business relationship.

What Are Complementary Skillsets?

Simply put, a complementary skillset exists when the people you are working with can do things that you cannot. Imagine for a moment that you are a developer, working on an app. You know you need to reach out to people in order to sell your product, but you’re not very talented at those sorts of interactions. What you need is someone who can handle marketing and sales. Having a co-founder who focuses on those areas would complement your own skillset, covering your weaknesses and allowing your strengths to shine. Thus, co-founders should fulfill different roles, picking things up where the other or others fall short, and allowing the company to run smoothly and effectively without having to worry about doing things that you may not be particularly good at. If you find the people who complement your own skills, you’ll be all set to start your business.

Where Should You Go Looking For Co-founders?

Looking for a co-founder is not something you would want to do with a job listing, as this will be someone you will have to work with and talk to for a very long time. Ideally, your co-founders should be people who you’ve already developed a relationship with, possibly from university or work. The key here is getting to know people for a certain length of time: at the very least two years, although the longer the better. This is because only through extended interaction with them will you be able to evaluate what their strengths and weaknesses are, as well as their work ethic and ability to collaborate with others. If you do not do this and jump into a founding situation with someone you do not know very well, then the likelihood of diverging views on what to do and where to take the company will be more likely to emerge, which in turn could jeopardize your entire enterprise.

What Is The Ideal Number Of Co-Founders?

When looking at the data regarding who gets funding from Silicon Valley VC firms, we find that the preferred founding teams usually have between 2 and 4 co-founders, rarely going under or above this threshold. On one hand, having a single founder situation is possible, but incredibly risky. You need to have intense discussions with your fellow co-founders, and if you are running things solo, this won’t be possible. You need sparring partners to bounce ideas around with until you agree on the best decisions for the company. On the other hand, having too many co-founders can be a problem all of it’s own. Coordination and reaching a consensus with so many people can be quite the challenge, as well as the partition of responsibilities. Having too many people in charge can lead to some real problems. Therefore, 2 to 4 is the ideal number.

Things To Consider And Avoid

Generally, not everyone working in the management team needs to be a co-founder. While having a strong management team is one of the keys to success, this should not automatically make them co-founders. In fact, it is better if they are not, because you can always hire more people to tackle problems as they arise. It is better to start off with a smaller team and expand as you go along.

Not only that, but you should also consider avoiding hiring family members, or even letting them join you as a co-founder. Letting family members participate in your business can make your life very difficult, because the relationship with them might strain if things don’t go well. It is important to maintain a balanced life and to have people outside your work circle who can help you in times of need. If your family is part of your work life, these situations may be difficult to manage. Thus, it is advised that you do not mix work life with family life: keep things separate!

Another thing to consider is checking your potential co-founder’s background, to see if they ever worked during their student years. This serves a very important purpose, as it will tell you if they have ever taken on responsibilities in the past, and whether they’re familiar with the formative nature of working during summers or part-time. These student jobs will often teach a person a lot about themselves, their work ethic, where their strengths lie, and who they work well with. Usually, co-founders who have undergone these student jobs will be more grounded – and thus  better candidates.

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