Making a decision about selecting the right co-founder for your startup is more than often equated to choosing a life partner. This is because you will spend innumerable hours with the person while ideating, debating, strategizing, disagreeing and eventually succeeding in your venture. Therefore, picking your co-founder wisely is the most important decision for the founder of any startup.
In fact in most cases it can be more crucial than picking your market and investors! A co-founder can bring many facets to the table and every founder has their own reasons to team up. These can be because of the need for essential skills and abilities, to secure funding, to share the workload in development and acceleration, to bring on a legitimate sounding board or simply because some people prefer working in a team.
Some of the most successful companies today have had two working founders that made them giant conglomerates – Steve and Wozniak (Apple), Gates and Allen (Microsoft), Ellison and Lane (Oracle), Hewlett and Packard (HP), Larry and Sergei (Google), Yang and Filo (Yahoo), Omidyar and Skoll (eBay), Sachin and Binny (Flipkart) and finally Travis and Garrett (Uber). All the founders of these giants swear by the importance of a co-founder.
However, there are 5 crucial traits you must keep in mind when looking for a co-founder:
Mutual Respect: Working together with someone who shares your vision and with whom you need to spend hours at end, needs to be someone whom you respect. The respect you have for the person and the person must mirror their skills towards you. A cordial and healthy camaraderie is crucial for the success of the venture because even though you and your partner might not have the same skill sets, appreciating each other’s talents and complimenting them will ensure you work in tandem as a team.
Complimentary Skills: Every founder may not have all the necessary skills required to build and grow the venture. You may be a techie but might lack business development expertise or you may be an innovator but not necessarily have the skills to market your product or service. Therefore, it is necessary to bring in a person who has skills that compliment yours to ensure a holistic team. Getting onboard someone whose strengths balance your weaknesses and vice-versa is the key.
Shared goals and visions: Alignment of goals and visions for the company is an essential prerequisite in determining the compatibility between a founder and a co-founder. Sometimes they may have different goals for the startup, which will prove detrimental in the long run. For instance, the founder may want to grow the company just enough to be able to sell out, while the co-founder may want to focus on building a larger business and run it independently without having to sell out. It is in the best interest of the startup to get onboard someone who shares the same long-term vision so there are no conflicts later.
Flexibility to learn, change & adapt: Startups often face many unforeseen hurdles. To cope with the situation, the founder and the co-founder may need to learn new skills, change the style of functioning or even assume new or different roles, as the situation demands. In times of distress, a co-founder shouldn’t just be a shoulder to take support, but also an equal when it comes to taking responsibility and acting to remedy the situation. Also, since most startups are cash-strapped, hiring a team might not be an option. So the co-founder (and the founder) needs to don multiple hats and be able to juggle between different verticals of work. Only someone who is willing to learn, adapt and grow with the company and shares the same enthusiasm as the founder can work in tandem!
Emotional intelligence & energy: Startups are not for the faint hearted. Long hours, extended periods of stress, setbacks and waiting periods are just the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, a co-founder with a balanced emotional intelligence is paramount. During periods of stress, a founder will need to bank on someone who follows a rational approach and can find the right solutions and implement them rather than becoming vulnerable under the pressure. In the same way, energy is something that must be present in abundance! The physical and emotional energy to pull through tough times, hang in through the slow times and be motivated to grow at all times is something every founder must look for in a co-founder.
A co-founder can be your most important, reliable and go-to person when founding and running a company – someone who has his skin in the game; someone who has joined the startup not as just another job, but to disrupt the space! However, it is to be remembered that not everyone is perfect and so there is no such thing as a perfect co-founder. Compromises are unavoidable in every relationship and it is no different with a co-founder. But the correct decision would entail finding the right person to make those little compromises for and the person with whom your startup will eventually one day snowball into a thriving business.