7 Qualities Every Entrepreneur Should Look for in a Co-Founder
A Note From The Editor
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Founding teams often naturally develop as an idea transitions into a startup -- but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, you’re a one-man show and you finally decide it’s impossible to move any further without the assistance of another experienced entrepreneur.
The problem is that you don’t want to risk wrecking your venture before it even gets off the ground. How can you select the right co-founder, and what should you look for? Here are seven qualities that need to be near the top of your list:
1. Cooperative, not passive
While there are a number of things to consider, the first box on the proverbial checklist pertains to how well you get along with this person. You want someone you feel comfortable around because you’re going to spend a lot of time with him or her. In fact, during the launch of a startup, it’s possible that you’ll spend more time with your co-founder than you do your significant other.
This isn’t to say that you want a co-founder who is merely cooperative and easy to get along with. You shouldn’t mistake passivity for cooperation. The latter is a positive, while the former is negative. Passivity can initially appear similar to cooperation, but it’s actually distinctly different.
Passive cofounders merely tell each other what each wants to hear -- out of fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Cooperative cofounders don’t dispute irrelevant issues, but stand strong when it comes to important decisions.
2. Pedigree of success
Past achievements don’t always indicate future success, but it’s better to work with someone who has a strong resume, as opposed to an individual with no history at all.
When searching for a co-founder, look for someone who has experience being part of a founding team; any capacity is fine. The benefit here is that the individual understands what it’s like to work in a startup environment.
3. Complementary skillset
Things tend to work out best when your co-founder offers complementary skillsets. The idea is that you and your co-founder should work together to form one productive entity that lacks nothing.
I met my OptinMonster co-founder, Thomas Griffin, using the approach of "one builds, one sells." This means that one of the co-founders is responsible for building the product, while the other sells the product. This complementary approach is a perfect model for many startups.
4. Strong networker
For startups, few things are as important as networking. By aligning yourself with a co-founder who has a broad professional network, you immediately gain access to these resources. On the other hand, if you choose to work with a co-founder who has a limited network, you’re essentially stuck with your own list of contacts.
Generally speaking, strong networkers are people who possess fantastic interpersonal skills and have worked in multiple businesses or industries. These folks are often able to connect your startup with new opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
5. Plenty of time
Startups require a lot of time from all members of the founding team. You can’t expect to spend five or ten hours per week working on your startup if you want it to scale into anything remotely successful. You need people who can dedicate 30, 40 or 50-plus hours per week to your startup.
The issue here is that most of the candidates you believe are qualified to sign on as cofounders probably already have jobs or ventures they’re heavily involved with. This means you have to choose very wisely. Do you really want a candidate who is qualified, but can only give you an hour or two of time each day? The answer here should be "no."
6. Passion for your idea
You can find a co-founder who meets all of your criteria, but he or she won’t be a good fit without a passion for the same causes you have. The only way to ensure that your co-founder feels the same about your startup is to lay everything out. You must be as transparent as possible: Down the road, any decision you make today to leave out facts or details may hurt both of you.
“The only thing that keeps co-founder disputes at bay is passion for a mutual cause,” says Adam Lieb, founder of Duxter. “Make sure you both want to solve the same problem and have the shared passion to do it.” This may be hardest quality to find in a co-founder, but it’s worth waiting for until you find someone who shares your passion.
7. Honesty and trustworthiness
Startups fail, mistakes happen and everyone has lapses in judgment. These are undeniable truths in the business world. And while you cannot avoid any of these facts with 100 percent certainty, you can diminish your chances of messing up by hiring a cofounder with a reputation for being honest and trustworthy.
You want a co-founder who will do the right thing for the company, even when that right thing is uncomfortable.
Co-founders matter -- 'Trust me'
“A single founder is like one hand clapping,” said Steve Blank, successful entrepreneur and CEO. “The sweet spot is somewhere between two and four.” He was alluding to the fact that you need more than one person in order to maximize innovation, but you don’t want too many voices, or nothing will be accomplished.
While you should certainly seek out a co-founder for your startup, don’t sign on the dotted line until you’re sure that person is the right one. In fact, you may want to regard the co-founder hiring process like dating. It’s all about asking the right questions, learning about who this person is and determining whether or not his/her values and traits align with your own.
I’ve personally started a handful of successful startups -- including OptinMonster, WPBeginner and List25 -- and I understand firsthand the importance of working with the right people. Keep these tips in mind when you're looking for a co-founder, and you will maximize your chances for success.