How to Choose The Right Co-Founder
Nov 28, 2023
Starting a company can be an overwhelming journey, filled with uncertainty and challenges. A co-founder by your side can make all the difference.
But choosing the right co-founder is crucial for the success of your startup.
Find a Co-founder or Go It Alone?
Bringing a co-founder on board can be amazing. A complementary skillset and emotional support are great reasons for not going it alone.
However, consider that sharing decision-making power and diluting ownership are trade-offs you need to be comfortable with. Mis-alignment and a falling out between co-founders is frequently among the top 5 reasons startups fail.
Going it alone wasn't something I even considered. I wanted to work with someone who was equally motivated and had as much skin in the game as me.
5 Things to Look for in a Co-founder
When I started my search, I wrote down a list of criteria that were important to me. These apply to co-founders, but really any close partnership in business.
1. Alignment of Vision
Your co-founder should share the same long-term vision as you do. They should understand and believe in what you're trying to accomplish with your startup. Having aligned goals ensures that both of you are working towards a common objective without any conflicts or misunderstandings.
2. Complementary Skills
Look for someone whose skills complement yours rather than duplicating them. Find someone who brings expertise in areas where you may have limited experience or knowledge gaps. This way, you'll have a well-rounded team capable of handling various aspects of running a business effectively.
I always advise non-technical founders of SaaS companies to find a technical co-founder. Outsourcing development without technical oversight is a surefire way to burn your cash.
Starting a business can be a rollercoaster ride, filled with ups and downs. Look for someone who has the resilience to persevere through tough times without losing motivation or focus. A resilient co-founder can help you navigate challenges and keep moving forward.
A person with high integrity will not only act ethically but also demonstrate honesty in their actions consistently. They will keep their word and take responsibility for their mistakes. This quality is crucial when building a long-term partnership based on trust.
Trust is paramount when it comes to selecting a co-founder. You need someone whom you can rely on during challenging times and trust with sensitive information about your business plans and strategies.
Testing for both, integrity and trustworthiness can be challenging, although there are some great interview questions you can ask. Personally, I’m not sure if I would have partnered with anyone I didn’t already know, or came highly recommended by another friend.
Founder mis-match is one of the top reasons startups fail. If you decide to partner with a co-founder, make sure you get the above points right.
Leverage Your Network
I started the search for a co-founder a little more than a year ago. I spoke to everyone I knew. Met up for lots of coffees. And posted in a bunch of communities I am a member of.
One of those communities was the Atlassian Alumni Slack.
The hard part was finding the right person at the right time. Lot's of people were keen, but the timing wasn't right.
When you start your search, cast your net wide and early. Even months before you want to dive in, to increase the chance that the timing is right for the right people.
In my case, the timing happened to be right for Adam. Within 3 hours I received the following response:
Adam and I worked together on Bitbucket Server. We had a good idea what skills each of us brings to the table. Just taking a break after working on a couple of startups himself, he knew what to expect. And I knew resilience definitely wouldn't be an issue.
We started exploring a slew of ideas after he came back from his holiday. Forming ideas and a vision together in the early days helped immensely with alignment. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The Bottom Line
Remember, choosing a co-founder is not just about finding someone who fills gaps in your skillset; it's about finding someone you genuinely connect with—a person who shares your values, passion, ambition, and commitment to success. That connection will lay the foundation for building an incredible startup together!
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