Getting Through Thick and Thin With Your Co-founder
A Note From The Editor
Think your company has what it takes to make our Top Company Cultures list? Apply now.Apply now »
Eureka! You have a billion-dollar idea, but now what? For most people, one of the first steps is finding a co-founder. Let’s be honest, building your empire is going to be an exciting, rollercoaster ride, but you don’t want to go in alone! The best part of any startup experience are the moments you spent with your team, and the relationships you build along the way.
I’ve founded or co-founded five different startups, which means I’ve either had to pick co-founders, or be picked by a founder, several times. Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been a rosy relationship. I’ve had co-founders steal from me, remove my equity days before an acquisition, and lie to me, among other offences. Through all the headache (and the hugs), I have found that although it’s always a risk when choosing a co-founder, there is a formula. Below are the five qualities every candidate should have to become a co-founder for your startup.
Integrity is what you do when no one’s watching. As a startup founder, you’re not going to have the time to manage your co-founder(s), nor should you. They need 100 percent autonomy to do their job, and you have to be able to trust them with making major decisions, while giving them access to everything (including the bank account). If you don’t trust the person you’re looking to do business with, there’s no chance the business will be a success.
2. Shared vision.
This is an absolute must. Yes, it’s great to have a co-founder who will test your views, and who thinks differently than you. However, and this is important, your disagreements should be about the means to the end, not the end itself. If there are different end goals, it’ll never work.
3. Expert communicator.
If there isn’t a shared vision at the top, and that vision isn’t communicated constantly among the co-founders, it’ll never be communicated effectively to the rest of the team. This can lead to confusing, or sometimes even contradictory, messages sent to the team by the founders. If the team is under the impression that the people at the top are not on the same page, how are they expected to act? How can they know whether what they’re doing is valuable or not? Everything ties back to the vision. Thus, all communication with the team has to come from a single-voice, and all arguments amongst co-founders must take place behind closed doors.
Related: It's Your Vision: Help Them See It
4. Ability to admit shortcomings.
Call it being humble, call it intelligence, but the smartest people I’ve ever met are the ones who admit to knowing the least. Startups are always pivoting, and more often than not the first idea, or even the first ten, don’t work. If pride is an issue, you won’t be able to adjust fast enough to stay competitive. Plus, if the founders can admit to their mistakes, then team members will feel more comfortable admitting to their own as well, and this kind of humility will do wonders for an organization, which can now focus on solving problems and not on finger-pointing.
5. Complementary skill sets.
As you can see, this is quality five. This is important, but the least important, of all five qualities. Only after the candidate checks-out on the first four qualities, should this one even be considered. That said, complementary skill sets are a must among co-founders. They say if two people share the same opinion on a matter, one of them is unnecessary. This same logic can be applied to skills among founders: if you’re a salesperson, partner with a product person, or you're a marketing person, then not another salesperson.
Related: Not Just Any Partner
It’s tempting for most first-time entrepreneurs to partner with someone similar to themselves, with similar experience or backgrounds, because it is easier to relate to and work with people (in the beginning) who are similar to ourselves. However, long term, this will most likely result in an “incomplete vision” at the top and a high dependency on third-party vendors to oversee the areas of the business which you and your partner don’t specialize in.