July 19, 2021 | 4-minute read (789 words)
Running a startup entails intense pressure, and it can be isolating. As their endurance flags, many entrepreneurs entertain the idea of bringing on a co-founder who can share skills, help strategize, enhance their professional network and maybe even provide much-needed camaraderie.
However, introducing a co-founder can also be a daunting proposition, as a significant body of research – for example, this study from CB Insights – finds that conflict with a co-founder is among the No. 1 reasons behind startup failure. This means it’s important to do the legwork and find someone not only whom you trust, but who shares the drive, passion and willingness to handle long-term risk.
Clearly, finding the right candidate entails much more than ability. So how do you find a co-founder who meets all these criteria? We’ve compiled several recommendations below.
How to succeed at choosing a co-founder
Think about your core values: Of course you seek a co-founder with honesty and integrity. But generic terms like those aren’t particularly helpful. Instead, consider whether you are very competitive, or you’d work better with someone who is more collaborative. Do you think about work around the clock, or are you looking for work-life balance? Knowing the answer to questions like these will guide your priorities and inform the decisions you are willing to make.
Consider what tradeoffs you are willing to make: What are you willing to forgo in order to attain your goals? Perhaps you are willing to burn the midnight oil in order to meet a strict deadline, at the expense of your personal plans. Or maybe you aren’t willing to trade security in the interest of security. Level with yourself about the tradeoffs you can and cannot make, and prepare to be upfront about them with a potential partner so they understand your priorities.
Define your ideal co-founder: The best way to do this is to appraise your own strengths and weaknesses, then come up with the abilities and experiences that would complement those traits. You may also wish to seek advice from peers whose opinions you respect.
Most successful businesspeople understand where the excel and where they are weak, and they surround themselves with the right people and environment. That’s why seeking out someone who shares the same traits as you do isn’t the best approach. Instead, prioritize finding a co-founder who complements you in the right way and in a manner that will benefit your business.
Tap different avenues: Your goal is to find like-minded individuals, so look to your professional network. Industry conferences, local business groups and entrepreneur forums are a good place to start.
Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn also offer entrepreneur groups that you can join. Another potential outlet is a local university’s entrepreneur-related activities. You may be able to connect with professors or student leaders connected with entrepreneurs also looking for a co-founder.
Make a plan for dealing with unpleasant scenarios: Every business eventually experiences some degree of adversity, for example a key employee leaving, a client who terminated their contract or a cash flow crunch. By discussing how you and your co-founder will manage challenging periods, your partnership will succeed.
Establish your business’ roles, metrics and milestones: This is a great way to test out the compatibility of your working styles and the strength of your shared vision. You must be able to work together as a team to succeed, so if you can’t easily agree to things now, it is unlikely to occur in the future.
Delineate responsibilities and roles: Clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of each co-founder from the outset can be accomplished by signing a co-founders’ agreement. At minimum, it should delineate the duties of each partner, stipulate business ownership, owner liabilities and the process for decision-making.
Mutually determine who will have the ultimate say in a particular situation and what you will do in the event a disagreement arises. Keep in mind that the co-founder roles should be based on expertise, with the assumption being that every co-founder possesses a specific skill set that matches their particular job description.
Plan to assess the job descriptions for each co-founder every year. This will ensure that your written expectations correspond with the work the business must achieve. Focus on the business’ goals, and don’t be reluctant to reassign roles and responsibilities accordingly.
Don’t sidestep conflict: As soon as conflict arises, make time to meet in private with your co-founder. Waiting too long to address conflict is apt to increase the odds they get repeated. Come into the discussion with the mindset of wanting to understand your co-partner’s perspective. And never talk about conflicts in earshot of your staff.