Finding a co-founder is pretty much like finding a spouse... at least in the sense of the seriousness and the thought that will go into the decision making. And despite all the precaution and thought, there is no guarantee that things will work out well. You can only hope, and give it your best, assuming that the other person gives his/her best too.
Accepting someone as a co-founder is probably going to be one of the most important decisions in your entrepreneurial journey, and often in your life journey too.
A co-founder is NOT just another co-worker. Even if the share-holding is not equal among the founders, a co-founder is going to be an equal partner in the decision making, strategy planning, dealing with the challenges, carrying the load, putting a 100% into the venture, etc. The success or failure of a venture can often depend on the quality of the relationship between the co-founders.
I suggest two major points to ponder on, when accepting someone as a co-founder:
On the functional front :
- Ideally, a person who has complementary skills, that you or the current team do not have, is likely to be more useful for the venture. (e.g. if you are a techie, find someone who is a business person).
- Find someone who has worked in a startup, or clearly understands what working in a startup could be like AND, accepts it happily. Often folks who have worked in larger companies, with well-defined processes, proper infrastructure, an army of people in support functions, super specialization of divisions, etc. are unable to deal with the uncertainties, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done style, and the multi-tasking nature of the work environment that startups typically are.
- Find someone who will not need the backing of a great brand name and large resources (e.g. big marketing budget, large sales force, etc), to deliver results. Find someone who is a self-starter and is not likely to look for a ‘boss’ to guide him/her. Believe me, many senior professionals actually perform better when there is someone to guide and drive them… and nothing wrong with that. You just have to find someone who does not depend on someone else to set the agenda and targets.
- Find someone who has the ability to deal with challenges and the maturity and calmness to manage routine stresses and failures, which are manifest in every entrepreneurial journey.
- Find someone who is a team player, someone who is likely to get along with a number of people in a flatter organizational structure. Someone who is secure enough to share the credit for success, and brave enough to accept responsibility for failures.
- Find someone whose measure of success is to increase the size of the pie, and not about increasing his/her share in the pie.
- Find a co-founder who can think AND do. Often senior folks from the industry who want to be entrepreneurs, accept a co-founder position in startups, but may not be happy doing the operational stuff. Some seniors from larger organizations feel that operations is what they used to do when they were junior, and now that they have moved up the ladder, their role is to think and strategize, and delegate operations to juniors. This does not work well in a startup.
On the personal front :
- Ideally, find someone from the same socio-economic background. This is important because when the challenges hit you, people with different financial circumstances may take different views on the situation. E.g. if the startup does not appear to be likely to scale up as much as earlier thought of, a co-founder with substantial wealth may not find it worthwhile to continue while another co-founder with modest means may still find it lucrative to continue. On the other hand, if the startup starts getting into a cash crunch, someone with a weaker financial position may not be able to continue for long with a lower income or no salary. These are practical issues. Either you find someone with similar circumstances/background, or discuss upfront what the response to different situations could be.
- Find a co-founder with similar aspirations and motivations. This is critical, and in my mind, a non-negotiable condition. People with differing levels of aspirations are likely to try and pull the company in different directions, as the startup progresses.
- Find a co-founder with similar professional aggression and drive.
- Find someone with similar views about life.
- Find a co-founder that you will feel comfortable sharing your joys and sorrows with. Find someone who you can count as your friend.
- Find a co-founder that your spouse is comfortable with. Especially if the co-founder is of the opposite sex. Your spouse being uncomfortable with co-founders will not directly impact the company but could cause stress in your personal life. Avoidable.
- Go by your gut feel. See if you feel nice about the person.
Most importantly, do not accept anyone unless you think that he/she is a GOOD HUMAN BEING. Everything else is secondary. If you have heard negatives on ethics, value-system, social behavior, ideologies etc – RED FLAG yourself. Do not get tempted by professional performance.
Happy Co-Foundering !!