6 tips to keep in mind when finding a co-founder

I recently learned a difficult lesson. I bought a plane ticket to another country to start a company with someone who I barely knew, who told me one thing and showed me another. When I got there, I quickly realised they had sold me an overly inaccurate view of their capability, financial position, and time commitments.

I made a mistake. Up until that time, I had been focusing on the business opportunity instead of the relationship we were developing.

Having a strong team is more important than having a great product or a strong business, and having a strong team starts with the founders. Behind every failed startup and every multi-national corporation, there are a handful of people who influenced participated in setting a strong or weak foundation for growth.

That’s why investors want to develop relationships with good teams. The first venture they fund with that company might not work out, but a good team will learn from its mistakes, and come back with a better or different product that will eventually find success.

And at the heart of every good team is a solid founder/co-founder relationship.

I told my story to a few experienced CEO’s, and here are some tips they had on finding a good co-founder:

1. No mates rates

This is important. It feels fantastic to bring on your mates as co-founders, give them minority equity stakes, and let them change their Facebook “working at” to your company, but is it necessary? It’s difficult, but you have to objectiverly decide who you need and who you don’t need.

  • Don’t dilute your equity by giving out shares to non-essential shareholders. If they’re not actively putting in money or not adding considerable value, don’t do it.
  • Remember that normal early employee equity is 0.5% to 1.5%, so decide early on if they’re employees or co-founders.
  • You need a support network, and mates are good for that, but make sure they know their boundaries.

2. Opposites attract

The Hollywood cliche of a nerd and a jock as business partners is actually fairly accurate.

  • Two similar people as business partners will often find it difficult to give each other space.
  • Two different people will often compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • A partnership between two different people will broaden the combined skill set, which is crucial for success in the company’s early stages.

3. Find an outside co-founder

There are services out there to help you find a co-founder. Listed are two of the bigger ones.

  • Founder2Be: Described as match.com meets LinkedIn for entrepreneurs, Founder2be has seen some startups who found their co-founders through the service be successful, most notably Cureeo and Georun.
  • CoFoundersLab: The biggest service of its kind out there, CoFoundersLab is easy to use, affordable, and has thousands of experienced entrepreneurs from all over the world (yes, even in New Zealand!) on its pages. If you find a successful match on CoFoundersLab, the team will get you some PR coverage. You’ll probably even recognise some of the names that’ll be found in their Success Stories section, like Clout and Revolv.

4. Do your homework

You’ve been hearing this for most of your life, and it’s not going to stop. Doing just a few hours of homework can save you a lot of pain down the road.

  • Google Search is your best friend. Don’t stalk, but don’t be shy either. A few Google Searches should pull up a few pages on most people, be it good or bad.
  • If nothing comes up in a Google Search, think again. Any semi-successful business person will show up on a Google Search, even if it’s their LinkedIn or Twitter that comes up.
  • Check out their past projects. LinkedIn can be great for this, as can Twitter. Facebook might be crossing the line a little bit.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. There’s a great story we did last year on Rollo Wenlock of Wipster, who found his co-founder Nick Green in about an hour. Rollo asked him to make a prototype of the software, and within a few hours, a working MVP was created and Nick was on the team. Don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Don’t be afraid to decline people. If someone is not a good fit, they’re not a good fit. It’s not personal, it’s just business.

5. Don’t be afraid to share

Rueben Skipper says to go for billion dollar execution, not billion dollar ideas. Don’t be afraid to share your idea with some of the people around you, because it’s the execution that matters. Obviously you’ll need to be cautious, and you shouldn’t share your concept with someone who has the resources to do the billion dollar execution, but in most cases, good ideas are developed through conversation.

6. Go with your gut

This essentially means that you go with the feeling you have. That way, even if you do miss out on an opportunity that you could have had, you’ll always know that you did what you wanted to do, not what you thought you should do.

It can be a tough decision sometimes, but going with your gut feeling can give you the confidence you need.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to getting to know the person. For some people, like me, it can take weeks or months before you start seeing the other person’s true colours. For others, like Rollo Wenlock, it can take mere hours to see the potential in a co-founder.

What have your co-founder experiences been like? Let me know in the comments below.

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