Together We Rise: The Search for the Perfect Co-Founder
Finding the perfect co-founder is challenging, and choosing someone who will be your partner, in the long run, requires a lot of time, effort, and self-assessment.
Startups often thrive on the collaboration, complementary skills, and shared vision that co-founders bring to the table. Microsoft had Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Apple had the iconic duo of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google.

An analysis of 1,000 unicorn companies revealed that an overwhelming 75.5% of these highly successful ventures had two or more founders. This statistic further emphasizes the significance of having a co-founder or a solid founding team.

The Closest Thing to a Marriage
Finding a co-founder is probably the closest thing to a marriage, and you will spend a lot of time together and need to get along ideally. As an entrepreneur with 25 years of experience, I’ve had multiple co-founder relationships, and it’s safe to say that most of them eventually encountered some issues. While I acknowledge that some of these problems may have been my fault, it’s also important to note that it’s a natural part of the process. Unlike a marriage, you’re not romantically involved and don’t view each other with romantic notions. Disagreements can arise from minor issues that gradually snowball into more significant conflicts, jeopardizing the entire collaboration.

So, unlike falling in love with someone, you should be very objective when choosing a co-founder. Here are some tips on how to find the right co-founder for your startup.

Understand Your Limits
Before you start looking for a co-founder, you need to do a self-assessment and learn where you got at and where you need support. Start by analyzing your strengths and weaknesses. What skills and competencies do you bring to the table? What areas are you lacking? Knowing your limits will help you identify the skills and competencies needed in a co-founder.

Acknowledging our weaknesses is a crucial step toward personal and professional growth. For a significant period, I must admit that I overlooked my weaknesses, and as a result, they often became obstacles in my path. While I consider myself a well-rounded individual, there are many areas where my understanding remains superficial. This level of knowledge suited me well, particularly in the early stages of a startup. However, I have realized that I am not an expert in marketing or product development. Recognizing this, I now understand the importance of eventually handing over these responsibilities to individuals who excel in those fields.

One way to understand one’s limits is to conduct a personality assessment. For me, this was an eye-opener and gave me a clearer understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and, more importantly, where I can add value to a team and where I need support.

Test Your Hypotheses
Once you have identified the areas where you need support, you should get an idea of how your product should look and validate your value proposition. Testing your hypotheses will help you identify your product’s benefits and the value it should bring to your customers. It will also help you identify the skills and competencies needed in a co-founder and future team. Find more on this topic in this article on testing a value proposition.

Seek for diversity
Now that you know your limits and have an idea of the project, you should start writing down what skills and competencies are missing. For example, if you are a technical person, you may need someone with marketing skills, and you may need someone with technical skills if you are a business person. Identify the areas where you need support and list the skills and competencies you need in a co-founder.

Understanding the value of diversity in teams is crucial, as it brings numerous benefits to any endeavor. The simple truth is that diverse teams tend to perform better. Why? Because the likelihood of covering a wide range of competencies and perspectives is significantly increased. Therefore, it is vital to contemplate this topic early on in your journey.

Furthermore, surrounding oneself with honest individuals unafraid to speak the truth is invaluable. Although hearing uncomfortable truths can be challenging, it is essential for personal and professional development. Constructive criticism and candid feedback can serve as catalysts for improvement. By embracing those who provide genuine insights, even if they sting at times, we can grow stronger, refine our skills, and make more informed decisions.

Where to find your Co-founder
There are many ways to seek a potential co-founder. Start with your network or extend it by attending startup events or asking fellow founders. Networking is an essential part of finding a co-founder. Attend startup events, meetups, and hackathons, join online communities like Y Combinator cofounder matching, post on Linkedin, and participate in discussions. Look for people who are passionate about things like you, and share similar values.

Get to know each other
A co-founder interview is different from a regular job interview. Start with a call, get to know each other, and if you have a good feeling and think this person covers the missing competencies, have dinner with her. During the interview, ask open-ended questions to get to know the person better. Ask about their experience, skills, and passion. It’s also important to ask about their values and vision for the company.

“The track record for founders that don’t already know each other is really bad.” Sam Altman

Since you have identified the required competencies, it’s time to assess your candidates. One effective way to do this is by utilizing a spreadsheet, which helps maintain an organized overview and allows easy candidate comparisons. By employing a structured assessment process, you can objectively evaluate each candidate’s skills, experience, and qualifications against the identified competencies.

Start with a Project
Initiating a project together is highly recommended. Collaborating on a shared endeavor provides valuable insights into a potential co-founder’s work style, thought processes, and communication methods. It enables you to understand better their strengths and weaknesses, which is essential for evaluating compatibility.

Starting a project can take various forms, such as embarking on a design sprint to develop a prototype, designing a landing page, or creating a sales pitch. Tailor the project to align with the specific competencies required. Setting a time limit or timeboxing the project introduces a level of stress that simulates real-world conditions, allowing you to observe how the person handles pressure.

Shall You Do an Assessment?
Startups at this stage have a limited budget, and an assessment is expensive. But if you can afford it, I would do one. An assessment will better understand the person’s personality, behavior, and work style and help you identify potential red flags affecting your partnership. A good assessment will give you answers to these questions and help you make an informed decision.

Final Thoughts
Choosing the right co-founder is essential to any startup’s success, and it’s important to approach the process carefully. While finding the perfect match may seem daunting, it’s important to remember that co-founder relationships require effort, trust, and a shared vision.

By following the steps outlined in this article, such as assessing your strengths and weaknesses, seeking out potential candidates, and working together on a project, you can increase your chances of finding a co-founder who shares your passion and can help bring your ideas to life.

Remember, a co-founder is more than just a business partner; they are your support system, sounding board, and partner in crime. So choose wisely, invest in your relationship, and together, you can build the startup of your dreams.

Product-Market Fit & Beyond
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MAY, 4 / 2023

Text author: Boris Manhart
Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash
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