Road 2 The Summit: Four Tips on Finding a Compatible Co-Founder, by Christa Ward, Senior Researcher and PhD
I recently read an article that said entering into a relationship with a co-founder(s) is just like entering into a marriage. It’s a lot of hard work but the payoff can be big! I think we can all agree there’s an element of truth to that sentiment. Like any relationship we enter into, we look for certain qualities. If we don’t find them, the likelihood of that relationship being successful is slim to none. For a solopreneur, finding a compatible co-founder(s) is a crucial step. 65% of all startups fail because of co-founder conflict! OK. Let that statistic sink in for a minute but don’t let it scare you. You have to put it into perspective. No relationship is ever perfect but if you have an idea of the qualities you want your co-founder(s) to have, your chances of success are greater. Here are just a few qualities to consider.
The key to any successful partnership is commitment but it is especially true for a startup. You will spend countless hours working together and independently to get the business up and running. If you don’t have someone who is willing to put her/his skin in the game, your startup doesn’t stand a chance. Start by having a conversation with your potential co-founder(s). During your initial conversation, are they talking about all of the other commitments they have? In general, this might not be such a bad thing, but it should raise a red flag or two because it speaks to how much free time they won’t have. You want to make sure that everyone is willing to make the same level of commitment to the business or, at the very least, agree to the level of commitment each person involved intends to make.
After you have had the initial conversation, do some background research. Check out their professional online profiles. Evaluate their work history. Have they started a company before? Do they have the experience in the industry? In other words, look for signs that indicate their level of interest and that they can stick with something. You won’t find all the answers you need in the first conversation or your preliminary research, but they are places to start. Not only will this provide you with a glimpse of their background, but it will also reveal how committed you are to finding the right co-founder(s).
Vision is another key quality you want your co-founder(s) to have. It is important, at least foundationally, that everyone involved share the same views on how the company should evolve, the target audience and what the company will stand for. Your co-founder(s) should share your vision and they need to be passionate about it. Everyone involved should believe in the product/service’s potential. Keep in mind that although your potential co-founder(s) should share your vision, they should also feel comfortable enough to help broaden or restructure that vision if it is for the betterment of the business. In other words, sharing the same vision does not mean constant agreement.
Awareness of biases
This can be a bit of a challenge because it requires letting go of generational stereotypes. When you are looking for a co-founder(s), especially intergenerationally, it is important that everyone involved recognize their own biases. I am sure we have all heard or read information that says, “Generation ‘fill-in-blank’ believes this or possess these characteristics.” Although these are interesting guidelines, at the end of the day, they are assumptions made about entire groups of people. These assumptions often lead to miscommunication between generations. Recently, IBM conducted a study in which they debunked many of the myths we hear about each generation. For example, the study found that contrary to many myths, when it comes to the workplace in general, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials have a lot in common. Each generation values a number of key factors that are important when looking for a co-founder(s) such as working with diverse groups of people, collaborating and saving the world. When you are embarking on a new business venture, be sure that everyone involved is willing to check their biases at the door and recognize everyone as individuals and not generational stereotypes.
Complimentary skills set
This is the area in which letting go of your ego and being humble is very important. I am sure you are good at what you do but consider the fact that there are people who can help you be great at what you do as they might provide expertise in a different area. In The E-Myth, Michael Gerber identifies three key roles every business should have, the creative visionary, the planner and the craftsperson. Start by understanding your business’ purpose and build from there. If your skills set is securing capital or understanding the legal issues commonly associated with startups, you don’t necessarily need someone with the exact same skills set. Be specific in defining the skills needed to make your startup successful. At the risk of sounding too cliché, look for that person(s) who completes you.
As I mentioned before, this list just provides you with a starting point. Do your own research. The internet, your business community, meetups and places like 4Gen Now’s Power Partners Summit are great places to gather background information on your potential co-founder(s). If you have a few qualities to add to this list, please feel free to share them with the 4Gen Now community here.