4 Ways To Find the Perfect Startup Co-Founder

Matt Preuss
Marketing Manager

Founding a company is no easy feat. From idea to execution, it can be almost impossible to get up and running as an actual, legitimate company and that’s just the beginning. Across all industries, 90% of startups fail and 10% of startups fail in the first year alone. The odds are stacked against you and only the bravest (and maybe craziest) folks choose the path of entrepreneurship and founding their own startup.

Going this road is risky and daunting so often it makes sense to bring on additional support, a co-founder or multiple co-founders, to join in on the wild ride of launching and building a startup. However, it’s not always clear when bringing on a co-founder is right. Timing, needs, trajectory, bandwidth, and business outcomes should all be considered when thinking about what a co-founder could mean for your business’s success (or failure).

So how do you know when you need a co-founder and how do you find the right one for your business? The Visible team has outlined 4 ways to find the perfect startup co-founder.

How Do You Know if You Need a Co-Founder for Your Startup?

There are no one-size-fits-all perfect way to run a startup. Some founders are successful on their own, hiring a great leadership team around them. Others make the choice to bring on a co-founder or group of co-founders early in the business. So how do you know if you need a co-founder for your startup? Consider two main categories, what stage your business is at and what your competencies are as a founder.

Not every founder (or every business leader) is perfect at every task that a founder needs to learn. Some founders come to the table with a product and technical strength – the how and the possibility of what’s feasible with your new idea is clear in your mind. Other founders come to the table with business acumen – maybe they’ve founded a company before or lead a company in the c-suite through major milestones like fundraises, acquisitions, or even IPOs. Still, other founders excel in an area of expertise that their new tech startup fits into. For example, maybe a 20-year restaurant management vet wants to start a startup focused on restaurant tech. They bring industry knowledge and even some business acumen to the table, but are missing the technical and the startup funding knowledge that may be needed.

Some founders choose to stay the course and work through the areas they aren’t experts in alone or with the guidance of trusted advisors. It is critical to go into your startup as a founder to understand your strengths and where you might be missing skills.

Taking an assessment of personal strengths and areas of competency is a great way to decide if you need a co-founder. A co-founder with another set of skills or expertise can help round out your startup and increase your odds for succeeding right out of the gate. This can also be done with early hires, but there are some unique benefits that come with purposefully choosing someone to co-found a startup with you instead of just joining as an early team member.

Check out why Yaw Aning, Founder of Malomo, believes it is important to find a co-founder below:

Why You Should Consider a Co-Founder

After you’ve identified that there are some core pieces of knowledge missing from your team as you move to found a startup, there are some key reasons why you should consider a co-founder to join the team instead of just making specifically skilled early hires.

Commitment to the Vision

With the ups and downs a startup can bring, commitment is critical for early team members. A co-founder is more bought into the vision of your startup than an early hire. They are tasked with helping to shape the vision, typically have the opportunity to grab major equity options, and have the responsibility of shouldering the success or failure. An early hire may be committed and you may even give them great stock options, but their ideas and direction aren’t shaping the business in the same foundational way. When things get tough, they can jump ship with a lot less hesitation. Understanding how startups go about splitting founder equity is important in understanding how committed a co-founder will be to your business.

Move Fast

Sharing the responsibility of the quick, high-stakes decisions that must be made while launching and growing a startup can help your team scale faster, saving time and money. Knowing you have a trusted partner to take ownership of parts of the business will allow more to get done simultaneously. For example, a technical founder can help lead the engineering and product decisions while a business-minded or CEO partner can focus on fundraising and scaling a GTM plan. It becomes much easier to move fast with multiple folks leading in lock-step.

Get Unstuck

As you move fast and scale your vision, roadblocks will pop up. A co-founder or multiple co-founders ensure that there are multiple folks with the same stake and commitment to the business ready to solve these challenges. Board members and investors (as you develop and bring on those partners) will have perspectives, advice, and even an ideal vision but a co-founder can help keep you focused and is a built-in, strong sounding board to move through the inevitable challenges that founders face.

What to Look for In a Co-Founder

Maybe you’ve thought about it and you do want to seek out a co-founder for your startup. But what exactly makes a good co-founder? Strong co-founders should have indispensable skills and experience, a complementary and collaborative mindset, and a clear vision and commitment to the company you’re planning to build.

Skills and experience

Reflecting back on identifying your own core competencies as a founder, whether you’re seeking out a co-founder with a very specific skill set or a complimentary one, looking for a co-founder with a background of skills and experience is key. In some cases, friends from college or young entrepreneurs are able to scale a successful business. But that is the exception, not the rule. In most cases, choosing a co-founder with skills and expertise in the competency area you are looking for, as a successful previous founder or business leader, or an impressive resume of wins and experience in the space your startup will play are good guidelines to follow in your search.

Complementary and Collaborative Mindset

Co-founders spend an unimaginable amount of time working together. Understand your working style and strengths and make sure you partner with a co-founder that you can work well with and who brings ideas and a drive to work together to the table. You might have the most skilled and experienced candidate on the table but if the energy between co-founders is off, the collaboration and execution just won’t get done or will be a very painful process to go through day after day.

Commitment

Is the person you’re considering bringing on as a co-founder a startup hopper? Are there weird gaps on their resume or unexplained reasons for exciting startups (outside of the reasons that startups fail 90% of the time)? Every founder is looking to be that 1 in 9. Best case, you take your startup all the way to a successful conclusion of acquisition or IPO. Looking for a co-founder with a track record and personality that can remain committed to the vision of your startup through all ups and downs is critical. Additionally, it’s important that any co-founder you take on has a passion and excitement for the problem you’re solving. The nitty-gritty will get stressful and even boring at times, but the commitment to growth and vision, what COULD be, will help any co-founder team preserve.

4 Ways to Find the Right Startup Co-Founder

Take Advantage of Your Network

Think about all the great networks and experiences you’ve been a part of in your career. From alumni networks at undergrad or business school to your LinkedIn connections, chances are someone in your circle knows someone looking to join the startup founder game too. Folks are always open to connecting with others so starting within the circles you feel comfortable with is a great place to start searching for a co-founder. Nobody knows you better than folks you’ve worked with or had personal experiences with. The perfect person may only be a degree or two connection away so put those feelers out in your network first.

Network in Your Startups Industry

Starting a company focused on the hospitality industry? Maybe the finance space? There are plenty of online groups on LinkedIn or on Slack as well as in-person associations and meetup groups that are industry-focused. Joining a few industry associations or networking calls can help you find a co-founder with the expertise and passion in your new industry space.

Look for Advisors

While it may not make sense to bring on a co-founder at the very beginning of your startup, start by bringing on a few trusted advisors and confidants to provide guidance and collaboration that a founder would. As you refine your work style and vision for the company, one of these advisors or collaborators could turn into a co-founder or after working with you, feel comfortable and excited referring to someone in their network to be considered for the partnership.

Find Founder-Focused Communities

In addition to networking in your personal circles and engaging with industry-focused events, there are many events specifically for founders. Some VCs and even top tech cities will host “founder speed dating” or “founder networking” events for current founders or past founders seeking to meet and build a network of collaborators and advisors or even as a place to meet others interested in founding a startup together.

Conclusion

All in all, outside of maybe how you choose to fund your startup, the decision to bring on a co-founder (or not!) is one of the most important decisions you will make in the early stage of a startup. It’s a decision that if executed correctly, can result in a great long-term partnership, allow for faster growth, and provide long-term success for your business. Start with our 4 ways to find the perfect startup founder and let us know how your startup journey goes. Happy founding! 

Interested in learning more about the foundations of a startup and how to measure success from the very beginning? Chat with the Visible team here.

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