The what, the why and the how of finding a co-founder for your business idea.
Starting a business is a dream for so many, but the hard truth is that it’s difficult to pull off entirely on your own. You might be thinking that your idea should remain yours and that you want to reap the rewards of a successful launch, but the reality is that few people become entrepreneurs all by themselves. It can be an overwhelming process if you don’t have someone to share the work with. Checking your ego at the door and bringing someone else or several others on board is the single best move you can make, particularly in the early stages of developing your idea.
What is a co-founder?
Basically, a co-founder is a person or persons who start the business with you and are there throughout the entire startup process, on an equal basis. So the accountant that you hired? They aren’t a co-founder. The marketing group you’ve outsourced to? Not co-founders. The best friend from high school who has a marketing degree but whom you’ve asked to start the business with you? That’s a co-founder!
Think of a co-founder like a marriage: you have to trust the other person, care about them, share a vision for the future but a contract wouldn’t go amiss. After all, like marriages businesses built on partnerships can also go awry. Sign an agreement, like a prenup, that sets out equity, decision making authority, ownership of intellectual and actual property, dispute resolution, and an out clause for either of you.
Why is having a co-founder (or several) beneficial?
Like we mentioned earlier, the list of things that need to be done in order to get a new idea off the ground is seemingly endless. It can also be a lonely place to be, with some heavy burdens to shoulder. Having a person who shares your vision, and can share the risks and burdens too, will make the process far easier for both of you.
A co-founder can provide perspective, resources, and a shoulder to cry on when you need it; you will be that same person for them. It’s very much a relationship with mutual benefits. There is also the obvious reality that if you fundamentally share beliefs and vision, you can do more, quickly. It’s like having a business clone, and since you can’t be in two places at once, the business will benefit by having more hands-on deck who are passionate about the vision.
Co-founder conflict, however, is also a leading cause of startup failure so while the benefits of having someone to share the burden with are enormous, finding the RIGHT co-founder is essential.
What to look for in a co-founder?
A shared vision — Fundamentally, you both have to decide on the shared vision for the company. If you don’t, it will be difficult to come up with solutions to the many issues you’ll hit when developing your idea into a concrete business. A good co-founder will have a similar taste for entrepreneurship, but perhaps bring a different experience to the table that can be leveraged.
TIP: Document the vision (or mission, if you prefer) and figure out your brand as part of that endeavour. Why? Because if you end up disagreeing on something fundamental, the vision/mission/ brand statements can give you a point to come back to and recalibrate.
Good communication — Make sure that you can communicate with this person without reservation. If there is any kind of power positioning between the two of you, open, honest and respectful communication will not be possible.
Mutual respect — Finding someone that you respect is key. They aren’t an employee with a certain set of tasks. They’re part of the visioning process for the business, so you have to respect their skills, intelligence and personality as a whole. If not, a disagreement can quickly damage the relationship. Integrity is the name of the game.
Stability and adaptability — A co-founder with a rigid vision and no willingness to alter and improve their own skill set isn’t your best bet. This is the person you’re going to need to count on when things get tough, and vice versa. You both need to be stable and adaptable, willing to change and grow as the business requires.
Business skills — Bringing someone into your idea and sharing the vision for it is one thing. Having a co-founder who is able to move forward with that vision as an independent thought leader in the organization is another. Your ideal co-founder will have business skills that complement yours but come from a different background / industry or workstyle. In other words, a co-founder will bring some skills where you come up short. Being real about your weaknesses is important if you’re going to find the right co-founder.
Perhaps you’re a classic extrovert and a ‘big picture’ thinker, well suited to seeking out and convincing investors, but with a tendency to go off course when you get excited about a prospect. It can be helpful to have someone to work with who is more focused on the process, details and planning, who will work to document your plans and keep the ship on course.
How to find a co-founder?
If you don’t have someone in mind in your personal circle, it’s worth talking to a mentor or a larger incubator group. They might know the perfect person who is also looking for a new challenge. It might seem odd to consider a perfect stranger as a co-founder of a business that your passion makes personal but that could be the right strategy, if they understand and support your aspirations in solving whatever problem your customer has.
If you’ve spent time thinking through what an ideal co-founder would look like in terms of personality, skills and interests, you’ll be able to spot that person more quickly when they come across your radar.
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