Why Finding the Right Co-founder Might Be the Most Important Decision for a Founder
Building a company is a long, sometimes uncomfortable and sometimes nerve-wracking journey. A co-founder can make this journey easier or harder. But what exactly distinguishes a good co-founder and how does one find the right co-founder(s)?
Business starts in two ways: One is you have an idea and start turning that idea into a business, by yourself. And at some point, you need to start building a team with you as the leader. The decisions are yours to make, and yours only. But so are the responsibilities and all the challenges. And not every person with an idea is born to be a good organization builder, let alone a good CEO. Most of the time, it makes sense to bring a co-founder on board who has complementary skills.
Another scenario is that two or three people have an idea together and start building a company together. Or others know they want to start a company but don’t really have a great idea. They specifically look to join someone who does have the idea but is looking for a partner to realize it. All these scenarios may be different, but basic premise remains the same for all co-founders.
My vision needs to become ‘our’ vision
Most great companies evolve because at some point there is a visionary who sees the world a little differently. Co-founders support this without claiming that ‘their ideas’ will be put into practice. They are passionate about their common work. They are convinced that the idea they are working on will improve the world and that it is worth the sacrifices one makes. Being a co-founder means being a team player and supporting a common vision with all your passion, strength and abilities.
The relationship between co-founders is like a marriage
In a start-up, founders invariably make changes to the business model and/or the set-up based on what they learn. However, despite the flexibility of start-ups, two things are difficult to change: the choice of the right co-founder and the choice of the investor. If founders decide on a co-founder, the values, priorities and ideas must match. The same applies to investors.
To avoid conflict in any phase of a young company, there are different questions you should ask yourself when selecting a co-founder and you should check-in every once in a while, to see whether any of these values or priorities have changed.
Three of those questions should definitely be:
Do you share the same values and priorities?
Have you developed common goals and shared your expectations with each other?
Are your co-founders and you equally passionate and committed about the idea and vision?
Once you have actually found your co-founders you should set rules and responsibilities from the start to allow successful collaboration.
Crucial tips on how to successfully collaborate in a founding team
Define your roles and mutual expectations on the basis of each founder’s capabilities and skill sets. Who stands for what and who takes care of what? What responsibility lies on whose shoulders? How do you want to evaluate your joint success and the contribution of each individual to the overall success?
Distribute equity and control based on criticality of roles and commitment.
Conduct retrospectives regularly to see how you can improve and optimize your collaboration. A good team is the result of hard work. Good teams—like good marriages—can resolve conflicts, make decisions, deliver results and hold each other accountable.
However you set up your company and your team, don’t forget that every startup needs a visionary. It needs that one person who leads the team and who has a vision. Good co-founders get involved and help the visionary to realize this vision; without blindly following, but also without vanity.