How to choose your co-founder

Sep '14

Creating a company is not an easy nor a small task. It usually requires a set of competences that are crossfield and difficult to acquire. Marketing, Product development, Analysis, and so on. This may lead you to choose a business partner. Here is 5 tips on how to choose your co-founder.

Matches your values

This is by far the most important. If you don't have the same values, you won't be able to share the same vision. If you don't share the same vision, it will be hard to ship something consistent. It will lead you to internal conflict. Starting a company is not the time to make enemies. So make sure that you don't end up having internal ennemies either. Work the same number of hours and work together.

Measure each other

Make sure that you measure efficiency. If you are a business type, you can easily measure if your developer co-founder are worth something. If you are developer, make sure that you measure your business co-founder in the same way. In case one of you is not delivering up the other's expectation, negociate a breakup (or let one of the other go if the contract allows it). Be firm or be prepared to live in an ever disapointed loop where you will lose trust in your founder's capabilities slowly but steadily.

Have each other's back

There is a french song that says: "We didn't know where we were going, but we were going together". This is true for startups. You can always re-adjust the path that your company is taking but you can't rebuild the trust once it is lost. Make sure you treat your co-founder as equal and ask him/her to do the exact same. Raise your voice at the first mistake or be prepared to be overruled many times. Prioritize your cofounder before any investor. Investor may not stick along the way, but without a team, it will be hard to go forward.

Try harder if you don't know

It's ok to partner up with someone that is not the top expert in his field. Creating a company requires such a broad set of skills that you want versatile people to work with. But be firm when your co-founder doesn't get knowledge in a field that is mandatory for the growth of your company. Learning should be a mandatory discipline in order to acquire the necessary knowledge that will lead you to success. I tend to be on the technical sides of things. I got many problems presented to me and I had to challenge myself in learning new technologies when I had to implement a real time fantasy football game for example. Expect from your co-founder to do the same when it comes to marketing, business, HR and what not. It's ok for an employee to sit comfortably on the skillset that he/she has built by the past, it is not for co-founders. You need to improve constantly in order to lead others on your path to success.

Complementary skillset

If you can, find a cofounder that complements your skillset. I tend to partner with business people that have ideas and connections. That way, I can focus on delivering something that is working and face all the technical challenges that the company will have to take on. It also ease the division of responsibility. Make sure that this is clear. Who is in charge of what part. The cherry on the cake is when you understand each other's activities. I've been studying a lot about marketing lately and product definition in order to understand better the rational behind minds that think differently than mine.

There you have it. Starting a company with one or more co-founder can lead you to either great success or hate each other. 90% of startups fail. My take is that 90% of these 90% are due to internal trouble. Be wise in your choices.

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