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The Critical Process of Identifying the Right Co-Founder

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Having a co-founder can offer an entrepreneur a different perspective, help with the refining of ideas and allow for a sharing of the workload. It might even grant a startup a competitive edge.

But there’s no exact formula for finding the right one. Two co-founders might determine that they made the right choice only with the passage of time -- a luxury for most entrepreneurs.

Several entrepreneurs across the country recently opened up to me about their co-founder experiences and the character traits needed to ensure the best results.

Related: Gilt Groupe Co-Founder: The 5 Secrets of Super Successful Founder Relationships

Resembling dating.

The decision to go into business with someone can happen slowly and not necessarily overnight. Often a co-founder is someone with whom a business owner has already interacted over an extended period of time and found to have a similar work ethic.

Dhananja Jayalath, co-founder of Athos in Redwood City, Calif., points to a difficult project that he tackled in college with Christopher Wiebe, who is now his co-founder. The two had fewer resources and completed the task faster than anyone else. Today, the duo's shared mindset for tackling daunting tasks and proving naysayers wrong is what's made their partnership ideal, he says via email.

Jack Shannon, co-founder of Recess, a Los Angeles musical-fest company and also a friend, says the most important thing is to partner with someone it’s pleasurable to spend time with.

Test the relationship's potential by working together on smaller projects similar in nature to the business in question, he adds. In his experience, a trial run can lay the foundation for the business. It's a success if one individual’s skill set complements the other's and the project ends in completion. 

This sentiment is shared by David Hoffman, co-founder of Next Big Sound, a New York City analytics and insight company for the music industry. He likes to ask the following questions:

"Am I excited to spend the next few years working side-by-side" with the person?

"Do we share similar values?"

Does the potential co-founder "want the same things in the long-term that I do?"

“If the answer is yes, go for it" 100 percent, Hoffman says via email.

That’s key. Both players must ensure that they're moving in the same direction and have a shared vision of the end goal.

Brook Jay, co-founder of All Terrain, an experiential marketing agency in Chicago, says business partners might have divergent views on politics but must share a common outlook on how they'll spend funds and what the future of the business. “You’ll know early on if it’s not a good fit because there won’t be any progress, and that’s not good for anyone,” Jay tells me by phone.

Related: The 3 Essential Things Needed in a Founders' Agreement

Offsetting complementary strengths.

An entrepreneur moves from "dating" to pursuing a co-founder arrangement when it becomes a priority to find someone who will not only help a company handle day-to-day issues but make a significant impact. Yet truth be told, most ideas take time to perfect.

A great partner can help speed up the process, Terri Moore, co-founder of Moore+Friesl, an architectural and design firm in Los Angeles, writes via email. A co-founder adds value by doing more than just pruning an idea, she says. The right partner pushes to enhance the initial project and holds the other person accountable for execution. “Having a partner automatically raises the stakes because if [you] fail, [you’re] going to bring [him or her] down too,” she says.

Creating a team with varied experiences and outlooks can give a business a better chance at survival -- perhaps because a co-founder can serve as a built-in editor, mentor, cheerleader and competitor, all in one, forcing the other person to push harder -- if only to not let the other co-founder down.

The perfect ally is a person who has everything the business owner needs. “Form a team that has the highest amount of combined strengths,” writes Billy Dec, co-founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, a restaurant and nightclub development company in Chicago, via email.

A great team offers the highest probability of surviving and thriving when it seems that all odds are against the pair.

Building a foundation for success.

In the end, “choosing the right business partner is only difficult because it’s not intuitive,” says Domingo Meneses, co-founder of CrowdNoize, a marketing software company in Chicago, via email. The education system does not teach people to understand or acknowledge shortcomings, which is why problems can arise, he says. The solution, Meneses says, is to find someone who's humble, honest and communicative in order to work through issues -- and will hold herself to the same standard -- so as to forge a strong and fruitful relationship.

This is the kind of business partnership that Bryant Goulding, co-founder of Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati, has created. When asked why he chose his co-founder Bob Bonder, Goulding writes, he "gave me the confidence that together we would motor through any problem that arises in the pursuit of building a business.”

Strong relationships are built on mutual respect and the understanding that the players are there by choice. Startups "need to choose their co-founders wisely," writes Edward Cannan, co-founder of Botan, a beverage company in Santa Monica, Calif. “If they do, it is a major asset for a company.”

Related: Friends Forever? Stay Close Even After Co-Founding a Company.