Business partnerships are like a marriage, and you don’t want yours ending in divorce.
The importance of a great co-founder simply cannot be overstated. In our own conversations with successful entrepreneurs, this is a theme that has come up over and over again. TidyChoice CEO Colin Weston cites much of his company’s success as the subsequent effect of bringing on Ana Andres as technical co-founder. Wanderu founder Polina Raygorodskaya, cites her co-founder, Igor Bratnikov, as the foundation that kept their company afloat while simultaneously stressing the importance of building an amazing team.
In all of these conversations, it became clear that great co-founders have helped highly successful companies to stay afloat. Whether that be Gigster, Fiverr, or Mentor Collective, nearly every company we have had the pleasure of interviewing has, in some way shape or form, referenced the value of their co-founders.
However, some companies are not as fortunate. Take Dealflicks for example. In our interview, founder Sean Wycliffe was quick to point out how the coming and going of founders led to a weak team:
And yet, even after many setbacks and failures related to building an initial team, Sean’s parting advice rested on the importance of finding a true partner for your business: “It helps a lot if you have co-founders because if you have other co-founders you start to realize well this guy is really excited he’s made a commitment to this thing I don’t want to quit on him or her and so you start to think about the people that you’re working with and you don’t want to let them down.”
In hopes of helping you avoid the pitfalls of choosing a poor partner, and making sure that your co-founder(s) help you and your company grow, here are a few tips for finding “the one” (or two, or three).
Consider Your Weaknesses
While this is a given for founders, the importance of recognizing and offsetting one’s weaknesses with the strengths of another is crucial to finding the right team members. When thinking about a potential co-founder, it is important to ask yourself about what aspects of business you lack skills in. In this way, you can ensure that your partner actually brings valuable skills and insight to your team.
For Dealflicks, this was key to raising the company to the next level. As an economics major and business-minded individual, Sean had little experience working with the technical side of things. Before long, his potential customers began to ask for a unique point-of-sale system, that Sean lacked the experience to create. While it took awhile for Sean to find a technical co-founder to join his mission, once he finally found the right person, everything seemed to click: “Once our technical co-founder came on, after that things started to move quite fast we were able to put together a site really quickly and then from there we actually started to get some sales.”
In simple terms, be brutally honest with yourself. Find someone that has the attributes you lack and blend your strengths together. This will fill the holes in your team’s skill set and give your company a solid foundation upon which your mission can be built.
Find a Compliment, not a Copy
While it may seem logical to find a like-minded individual to build your vision alongside, the reality is that your initial team members should bring value to your company. Someone who thinks in exactly the same manner, has precisely the same solutions, and originates from a similar background to you will only waste valuable time and financial resources. Instead, opt for diversity.
While this does not necessarily have to be ethnic or gender diversity, the facts point to noticeable benefits in diverse corporations. A recent McKinsey & Company Report found that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform non-diverse companies, while this is even higher for ethnically-diverse companies, at 35%1. Even so, a foundational team made up of people with different opinions, backgrounds, and interests will be more likely to lead to unique solutions and foster creative thinking.
As long as your co-founder(s) share(s) the value of your mission/vision, then this difference will only serve to benefit your company.
Ensure Equal Motivation
While a potential co-founder may seem to possess all of the necessary skills that would benefit your company, it is also important to realize that the “co-“ prefix translates to “jointly, mutually, or to an equal degree”. As such, it is important to recognize that your partner should be someone who shares your level of passion and drive for the vision you seek to create.
It is not necessary that partners agree to 70-hour work weeks and 9 am – 2 am workdays, but each founder must recognize his/her level of involvement and make it clear from the get-go. If you stress the use of weekends for business matters and your potential co-founder has a family and values attending their son’s soccer games, then maybe the partnership is not the right fit. On the contrary, if both partners have family commitments and agree to leave the office by 6 pm every day, then that’s perfectly acceptable. Just make certain everything is known upfront in order to avoid a potential falling out.
It’s a Long and Winding Road
“Rome wasn’t built in a day” – and neither was any successful company. The fact remains that creating a company and achieving your vision takes months, years, decades even, and it is important to realize that a co-founder should be in it for the long-haul. It may seem like common sense, but you must really ask yourself if this person is truly who you want by your side for the foreseeable future.
Is this person likable? Do they share your vision? Would you mind spending hours with them? Do they seem reliable? Can you deal with their personality on the daily? Do you get along? – These are all questions that you should be asking yourself. Building a company is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and you would much rather have someone cheering you on, than laughing at your form.
Along the same lines, consider your personal relationship. Do you want to be able to go out for drinks at the end of each day, or would you prefer a weekly partner lunch/dinner? Do you value working side-by-side on the daily, or do you prefer relative independence? Regardless, make sure that expectations are set before day one even begins. This way, you can avoid failed partnerships and instead work with individuals in a manner that benefits both parties.
Ego = No, No
In any sort of partnership, it is necessary that each party can put aside their differences and work towards the benefit of the whole. In business, each founder must be able to forsake their “correctness” and instead be open to different ideas, values, and critiques that they might otherwise be reluctant to hear. We all know that one person who is always sure they are “right”. This type of person has no place in your business. All co-founders should be able to throw their egos aside and interact as equals, or conflicts will soon follow.
By ensuring that your potential co-founders are those humble in nature and open-minded in thought, you can almost certainly avoid unnecessary conflict and ensure that your partnership sails a smooth course.
The words “co-founder” are mentioned in nearly every interview we have yet to conduct. If they are not mentioned in terms of endearment, then they are mentioned with a hint of regret; for some companies like Futurefuel, the lack of co-founder(s) led to hardships that could have certainly been avoided.
Across the board, co-founders are like a piece in a puzzle: find the right one and you are one step closer to your vision. After all, a puzzle cannot be completed if the piece is misshapen, and by using these tips, you will be on your way to finding the piece that fits just right and completes the puzzle.
- “Why Diversity Matters.” McKinsey & Company, http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters.