9 tips to choose the best co-founder

Startups Hiring Management

Posted by Enrico on Apr 21, 2016 965

First of all, if you are doing a startup and you still don’t have a co-founder, try to get one. If you can't, dont be discouraged and keep working on your project. Although many successfull businesses were built by solo founders, I personally regret creating my first startup as a solo-founder. The lack of human interactions made me lose my energy very fast. People underestimate the negative effect that working alone can bring.

Make sure your founding team isn’t too big either. Two to three co-founders is a good fit for a startup. For instance, too many co-founders would create problems during the decision process.

When you choose your co-founder, choose wisely and be picky! Remember that one of the main reasons for startup failures is because the founders didn’t get along. I always compare founding a startup team as a wedding. It can make the union so much more successful but it can also distroy it.

So what should you look for in your co-founders? Here are some of the criteria that I typically use:

Fun

I’m certainly looking for somebody I have fun working with. Starting up means spending endless hours working together. You just can’t do that if you don’t enjoy hanging around with your co-founder.

“Happiness is a journey, not a destination; happiness is to be found along the way not at the end of the road, for then the journey is over and it’s too late. The time for happiness is today not tomorrow.” By Paul H Dunn.

Motivation

My second criterion is motivation. People start businesses because of different reasons. Some want to make money; others want to be free or they just need to live an adventure. No matter what the reason is, the long-term motivation should be line with the startup vision.

I once made the mistake of creating a company with somebody who wanted to make money fast while I was planning on creating value for our customers and monetize in the future. We had to split as soon as we realized that. I wish I had verified this point before starting but we learn also by our mistakes, so it’s fine.

Complementary skills

Another capital thing that I personally look for in a co-founder are complementary skills. I want somebody that fills the gap. There is absolutely no point in teaming-up with somebody who has the same skills as yours, unless they are needed for the startup project.

I recently saw another startup failing because the two founders were basically doing the same thing. They were too focused on strategy while none of them was able to drive the delivery. If one of them was more sales oriented, I’m sure their startup would still be up and running.

Determination

Starting up is a very close synonym of finding obstacle. If you are looking for a co-founder, ask yourself who you would like to overcome obstacles with. In the startup scene you find many examples of startup founders who succeeded thanks to determination and commitment.

The example I like the most is Airbnb. They struggled during the first years but they eventually succeeded through extreme hustling and now their company is worth billions of dollars.

Imagination

I like to say that there are no problems but only solutions to find. Startups are all about testing new features repeatedly until things work smoothly. Thus, you may want to associate with somebody who thinks out of the box and who has proven to be imaginative.

Morality

Remember, startups are difficult and only few of them succeed. Ask yourself where you draw the line between what is morally acceptable and what is not. You certainly want to work with nice people but they need to be able to break some rules, if needed, in order to get the business done.

Flexibility

Successful startups often end up doing very different things than the ones they planned at the beginning, so you should look for flexible co-founders. The typical question you can ask is: “would you accept to change your idea?” If the answer is “no” it’s a no-go for me.

Resiliency

Launching a startup is like going to war. If you don’t die, you’ll eventually succeed. This means that you probably want to fight with somebody that is hard to kill.  I categorically avoid people that get demoralized too fast. To test resiliency you can look for things that the potential co-founder accomplished in the past either in his professional or private life.

Solid relationship

Unresolved tensions can very easily kill the startup. If possible, always work with people you have a close relationship with, like family members or friends. In this way you can expect that no matter how hard the going gets you’ll find a way to deal with it as a team.      

Ask yourself if you are able to argue with your co-founder without the feeling that you’re compromising the basis of the relationship. If the answer is yes, that’s a very promising indicator of solidity.

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    Enrico Tam

    MBA, PhD, tech entrepreneur, maker

    Hi, I’m Enrico and I started hacking at 9 years old back when it was Visual Basic. After trying to become a professional tennis player I somehow got entangled in a PhD in engineering, an MBA programme and a big consulting fir... (continued)

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