What to consider when taking on a co-founder

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Date: 11 May 2021

Smiling man during business meeting with his co-founder

Searching for a co-founder is a big responsibility. It's also a decision that shouldn't be taken lightly. If you've started a business, you probably already understand the numerous benefits that a co-founder can bring. A co-founder is particularly valuable at the inception of a company because you'll be able to benefit from someone who's as invested in the company's success as you. Co-founders typically do not take salaries, making it a cost-effective decision too, particularly when you don't have a steady cash flow.

All this being said, finding the right person for the job is no easy feat. According to a survey from Crunchbase, 23% of start ups that subsequently failed attributed their failure to not having the right team.

Other studies have shown that having two founders onboard significantly increases a start up's potential for success. Furthermore, companies with two founder members grew three times as quickly and were less likely to scale too quickly. Although finding the best co-founder can be a challenge, here's what you need to know:

Complement your talents

Finding the right balance between two founders is crucial. You need to find the right combination between both founders that addresses any skills shortages either member might have. For example, if you're a marketing expert that can balance HubSpot and Salesforce with ease, then you'd want a technical expert who can manage a Helm repository by JFrog and create powerful and creative code.

Starting out with complementary skills balancing marketing/business and technical skills is considered the holy grail of partnerships. While one team member focuses on marketing to the company's ideal audience, the other member focuses on building the product. This is especially important for founding members that don't have much knowledge in a particular field that could benefit their business.

The same concept can be applied to personality traits, too. If you consider yourself a more reserved person that lacks natural sales skills, you might want an outgoing co-founder that's confident pitching in front of people. The idea is to strike the right balance between talents and personas so that you can cover as much ground as you can as a unit.

Create a dispute resolution agreement

No matter who you are or what industry you're in, business disagreements are going to arise. It's important for you to have a plan for addressing disagreements head on and for you to discuss this 'What if' plan with potential co-founders early on.

Recruit like-minded

It's okay to have a co-founder who's inherently different than you, but it is important to have a like-minded vision, similar passion, and the same integrity.

Before you start looking for a co-founder, it's important for you to have a vision, even if your early vision for the company is somewhat malleable. Your co-founder needs to have a similar vision. For example, if you opened a food truck brand and are doing quite well, the last thing you'd need is a co-founder intent on opening a brick and mortar location if you're clearly focused on opening more food trucks. While plans can certainly change, outlining your starter vision can potentially avoid major hiccups further down the road.

Sourcing potential talent

Now that you've identified what you're looking for in a co-founder, it's time to start thinking about where you can actually find co-founders. There are several options, including LinkedIn, start up events (like StartUp Weekend), and start up platforms. CoFoundersLab, Code Ar.my, and FoundersNation are all great websites that help pair founders together. Be sure that when you're looking for co-founders, you clearly communicate your business, mission, culture, and required responsibilities. Be forthright about pay, equity, and other financial details.

Test drive your co-founder

It's important for you to evaluate your potential co-founder on the field before you sign any permanent contracts. The idea of "test driving" employees isn't very common, but in the world of co-founders, it's fairly standard. You can do this by choosing a business objective that you plan to achieve within a predetermined amount of time (three months is a safe bet). Your business objective should clearly outline the description of the project, the deliverables, deadline, and communication plan. For example, your goal might be to create a minimum viable product and recruit 50 beta testers.

As you work with this person, consider their performance, work style, culture fit, value, and more. Pay attention to how they handle stress and how seriously they take the company needs day to day.

Copyright 2021. Featured post made possible by Daniel Bailey.

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