Find the Right Co-founder in 3 Easy Steps

October 28, 2015

Successful startups are rarely a one-man or one-woman show. The person with the plan isn’t always the one with the finances, time or talent to bring it to fruition. That’s when it’s time to consider a co-founder.

Good ideas are easy to come by, but getting over the initial startup hurdles are anything but. Sharing the responsibilities, risks and rewards of success with a startup soulmate can mean the difference between total burnout and pushing through to that next level.

That’s especially true early on when it’s time to get the ball rolling and turn a pie-in-the-sky concept into an actual product prototype. Here’s how to find a co-founder who will eliminate inertia and enable good growth.

Step 1: Look for the right things

A co-founder has got to be, first and foremost, a good partner. That means looking for characteristics that will make for a strong long-term partnership. With the exception of a purely financial co-founder who may simply provide monetary support in exchange for equity, a co-founder should have:

Complementary Skills & Perspective
The idea is to begin to build expertise in the areas you’ll inevitably need to develop as you grow. If you have a technical background, look for someone with marketing or business development skills. If finance is your wheelhouse, seek someone with technical or marketing talent. It also makes it easier when it comes time to divide responsibilities. Each co-founder can then naturally fall into the roles they know and do best, and bring their own unique perspectives to overcoming challenges and creating solutions.

Similar Commitment & Work Habits
You’ll be spending a lot of time with your co-founder so you’ll want to make sure you’re compatible. If you’ll willing to drop everything for your startup but your cofounder see it as a side project, this will always be a source of tension. Likewise, if you are not very organized and prefer to work random hours, bringing on an uber-disciplined, 9-to-5 co-founder will most likely lead to a whole lot of frustration.

A Long-Standing Working Relationship
You’re going to be spending a lot of time working incredibly closely with your co-founder. While a friendship isn’t required (and you actually might want to avoid asking a close friend to co-found—more on that later), you should both be coming from a place of mutual respect, esteem and authenticity. And you need to know in advance that you have the ability to “move the needle” collaboratively.

Step 2: Look in the right place

Starting with your personal networks makes it much more likely you’ll already have a long-standing working relationship with potential co-founders. But keep in mind: Becoming a co-founder will redefine your relationship. If you were friends or family before, having a business relationship may put a strain on the non-business relationship.

Beyond your immediate circle, consider recommendations—people suggested by reputable sources such as venture capitalists or accelerator managers—or connections you’ve made at hack-a-thons or networking events. And, finally, you could do some “online dating.” Sites such as cofounderslab.com, founder2be.com, cofoundr.com, doerhub.com or founderdating.com can help you connect with potential co-founders that match your particular requirements.

Step 3: Don’t wait forever

If it’s taking way too long to find someone who is as passionate as you and is willing to make the financial and/or time commitment required, it may be time to take a really hard look at how best to move forward. Ask yourself:

Is my idea as solid as it needs to be? If you can’t inspire one person to buy into your idea and put in a modest investment, how will you get someone to give you the $100,000 you’ll need next? Consider going back to the drawing board and strengthening your concept.

Do I believe in this enough to take the full risk on myself? If you’re honestly willing and able to do whatever it takes to accomplish your goals, you can certainly move forward without a co-founder. The cons? It’s all on you—the risk, the pressure and the workload. The pros? You retain creative control and all the potential rewards. If you do decide to go it alone, be prepared to raise or invest enough to hire an outside team, hire a freelancer or teach yourself the skills a co-founder would have brought to the table.

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