We all know some of the famous twosomes. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and the list continues on for partners that came together and created something which changed the way we interact with the world.
As much as the media likes to glorify the struggle of a single founder bringing an idea to the masses, it is much more likely you will find success if you have someone working with you.
A co-founder provides more than just the extra man power, but brings their own set of expertise, a person to go through the ups and downs with, a more expansive network, and a secondary perspective to keep your business on track.
Finding this match can prove to be difficult, and startup boards are flooded with the questions “How can I find the right co-founder?” or “Where do I find a good co-founder?”
While there is no definitive answer to these questions, we have compiled 15 tips that will guide you in the right direction to finding the best co-founder.
1. Go into your search with the right mindset
Searching for a co-founder is a large time commitment. It is important to understand that you are most likely not going to find the right person within a few weeks.
Searches can take months to get the right introductions, or meet someone that is not only compatible with your business, but compatible with you as a person.
You are going to be spending a lot of time with this person, depend on them to get through the roller coaster ride of entrepreneurship, and raise your baby (aka: your startup) with this person.
It’s important to realize that you are going to have to dedicate a large portion of time not only searching for this person, but understanding and defining the co-founder you are looking for, as well as building a relationship with this person when you do find them.
And remember, more often than not, your first partnership usually is not going to be a homerun. Be ready for anything to happen, and open enough to learn lessons from the mistakes of failed partnerships to move forward.
If it’s a match made in heaven on the first pairing, then bask in your lucky streak and be grateful to be the exception.
2. Understand what you and your startup need
Before you jump into your hunt for the “perfect” co-founder, it is wise to take a step back and take the time to understand what you need to run a successful company.
Here are some things to consider before you start.
Create a list of the “ideal partner” like you would if you were looking for a romantic partner. This allows you to understand the personality and skills of the person you are looking for, give your search a focal point to begin with.
Make a list of your key skills and qualities. This allows you to see what you bring to the table, and also where you might be lacking and need to bring in complementary skillsets.
Understand your business and the key ingredients it needs to be successful. This will give you a key factors that are non-negotiable in a co-founder to look for in your search.
3. Look for someone you connect with beyond just work
Repeat: You will be spending long hours, nights, weekends, and many ups and downs with your co-founder.
Make sure you can connect with this person on a level that goes beyond a work relationship. You are not a robot (we are assuming), and like all other humans need to maintain a work-life balance.
Make sure your co-founder is someone you can go on a hike with, go grab a drink, or enjoy a concert with. Building a friendship beyond just work is key to the longevity of your partnership.
The truth beyond our rose colored lens is that things go wrong or happen unexpectedly in life, and especially in a startup.
Your co-founder needs to be someone you can go to when you need to take a time-out, need reassurance, or need to re-focus.
4. Tap into your network
The saying “Your network is your net worth” can and should be applied to your co-founder search.
You have invested time and built solid relationships within your network. They know who you are, what you are passionate about, and also hold an unbiased perspective of your business.
You have invested your time in these people, so it makes sense that they have invested time in others that could be compatible for your business.
Their recommendations are pre-vetted, and you know they wouldn’t make the introduction without seeing a clear way you could benefit one another by working together.
5. Find a coworking space
This is how the founders of Foursquare met. They worked in the same space, at different companies until they met and realized that they could create something great by joining forces.
There is a reason why major startup hubs across the globe are investing in creating coworking spaces.
Startups choose these environments to launch because they are placed in a space with people who are similar minded in their goals and aspirations, but also come from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.
Often times entrepreneurs will ask advice from other members of the space, or guidance on something that has them stuck.
The collaboration of minds often leads to new ideas, and new ventures launched. You never know, you could be working right next to your future co-founder.
6. Your future co-founder needs to have similarities with you
Guy Kawasaki talks about the necessity of your new co-founder to have both similarities and differences in comparison to you for the company to succeed.
Here are some of the ways he says you and your new co-founder should be similar:
Commitment to the Business: Have a conversation with your prospect about what is most important to them, and what their priorities are.
Founders need to have the same level of commitment to the business, and an agreed upon time frame they will commit to making it work.
Make sure you are on the same page with things like dedicate hours, goals, and passion.
You have to find a co-founder that is passionate about what you are doing, otherwise it is only a matter of time before it starts feeling like work them and they bow out.
Vision of where the company is headed: To steer the ship in the right direction, you must have a clear vision of where your final destination will be.
When you bring another leader into the mix, both leaders must agree upon where the startup is headed, how it will evolve as it grows, and what the goals are 5 to 10 years down the road.
Vision relies a whole lot a person’s intuition, and ability to see the bigger picture. Your new co-founder must see the same path as you to take the company to the next level.
The size of the company you are building: This aligns with finding out what is important to your co-founder, and also communicating your vision for the company’s goals.
It’s your job to tell your co-founder if you are trying to build the next Google, looking to keep the team small and remote to meet your traveling needs, or just looking to build the company to a success point to sell it.
This needs to be talked about before you bring someone on, to make sure you are on the same page.
7. Your future co-founder must also be different from you in all the right ways
“Make sure that the people around you don’t think, look, and act like you, because you want them to ask different questions. For me, that’s the start of finding a co-founder. You need to get someone who’s super smart, but very unlike you.”
— Douglas Merrill, former Google CIO and Co-founder of ZestFinance
Kawasaki also mentions the differences you and your co-founder should have. Startups require a great amount of varied skills to make them work.
Here are the ways you should differ from your co-founder to meet your startup’s needs:
Diversity is Key: The more diverse outlooks and perspectives you can get the better.
Differences of perspective include things like different genders, social economic status, age, backgrounds, religion, nationality, etc.
Diversity allows you to get out of your own bubble, and look at something from a variety of angles, creating more opportunities for more creative plans and solutions.
The “one makes it, one sells it” suggestion: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak worked so well together because one of them was completely focused and honed in on building a great product, and the other one knew how to take the product and get people to not only listen but rally around and become avid supporters of it.
Founders need to make up for each other’s shortcomings, and have differing skill sets to cover the needs of the startup.
Ways you think: If you are someone who is a big picture, visionary kind of starter, you are going to want a co-founder who care about the nitty gritty details in between.
In contrast, if you are a details oriented kind of person, your sight might be limited by the smaller issues, and you will want a co-founder who can drive the vision to focus on the overall picture.
8. Put yourself in their mind and go to places the person you want to meet would be
Remember when we talked about the time commitment a co-founder search requires?
Going to events and meetups is a large part of that commitment to finding the right kind of people for your startup. It worked for the co-founders of Deegr (a successful content discovery tool) who met at Startup Weekend London.
Startup events like Startup Weekend, Startup Grind, local tech meetups, pitch competitions, and more are the ideal situations that are going to to attract similar minded individuals with the qualities you are searching for.
If you are looking for a more technical co-founder, then you might go to a Ruby meetup, or hackathon.
9. There are a growing number of tools on the internet
Entrepreneurial minds realized the growing need for assistance in matchmaking potential co-founders together, so many tools have formed to help entrepreneurs in their search.
Some websites dedicated to your matchmaking needs include:
FounderDating: This site requires you to apply and pay a fee to get access to a network of high quality co-founders and serial entrepreneurs.
Techcofounder: Need a technical partner? This site connects you specifically with tech talent.
Founder2be: This site has covers all areas of skillsets to help you find your perfect partner.
techVenture’s Cofounder Network: This site requires an application for access, so you will find only serious entrepreneurs in this network.
Social media is also a very powerful tool to meet potential co-founders, and get to know who a person is a what they care about. The co-founders of EcoFactor met through Linkedin.
Post tweets and send messages to recruit the help of your social media following. Chances are, someone you are connected to online will know someone that you should meet.
Along this line, you can use job boards to post exact descriptions of the person you are looking to connect with.
10. Date before you get married
Choosing your business partner is in many ways comparable to choosing your life partner. You are going to be spending the majority of your time with this person, and look to this person when things get tough.
Just like in a marriage, you don’t go on one date with the person and decide you are going to commit the rest of your life to them.
You start slow, go on a few dates, then go on some vacations and get through some tough times to be absolutely sure this person is the right one.
The same goes for your co-founder. You want to “date” them for awhile to see how they respond to things like stress, see how they work, and give them a chance to show you who they really are before you move forward.
Work on a project together where you both have something on the line, go out and have conversations to see how they speak about people, or one of the best ways to get to know someone is to go somewhere you both have never been and see how you respond together to the unknown.
Breakups are long and messy, and can destroy a startup down the road. Make sure you know who you are signing those paper with to avoid any doubts and uncertainties down the road.
11. Make sure you are both in a similar financial situation
Your co-founders financial situation will greatly affect the amount of time and effort they have to contribute to your venture.
It is ideal that both founders have built up enough savings to work on their startup full time, or have an agreed upon amount of time that each must contribute to the startup if they need to continue working.
Finding a co-founder who has very little debt is ideal so that they can focus their energy on the business.
It is important to share your financial goals from the beginning, to understand if each co-founders needs are compatible.
If the co-founder you are looking at has a great job but wants to build something cool, or if they need to find a way to make some money to pay bills both can work, but it is understanding and working out what that will look like from the beginning.
12. Ask someone wiser who has done it before aka your mentors
Paul Lee, a partner in the VC firm Lightbank, tells entrepreneurs to stop thinking they are infringing on their mentors’ time, but instead go to them as often as they can for their advice.
Ask them for introductions to people they think would be a good fit based on your startup’s needs and your strengths and weaknesses. Also, they have extensive networks, often more vast than your own.
Ask them if they could reach out to who they know, and set up meetings with potential co-founders they find.
“What matters is not ideas, but the people who have them. Good people can fix bad ideas, but good ideas can’t save bad people.”
– Paul Graham, Partner at Y Combinator
Integrity is one of the single most important factors you should look for in a co-founder.
Investors rank integrity as one of the top traits of an entrepreneur they invest in, so you are going to want a partner who exudes this quality. Look at their values.
Are they willing to lie to others? Are they disrespectful to your waiter at lunch? Do they talk badly about others often?
These are all red flags to look for in your communication with a potential co-founder. Find someone who shares your values that your gut can trust.
14. Look at their risk taking profile and avoid “wantrepreneurs”
Let’s be honest. Any business venture involves risks, and founders need to have a realistic optimism when conducting their business.
Test your potential co-founder to see how they react to something not going their way. If they hit the panic button and run for the hills, then this is not the co-founder for you.
A person’s track record is a great indicator of how well they are able to handle difficult situations.
Has this person failed before? In this case, failure is a great thing, because this person understands the risks involved, has gone through them, and has continued moving forward.
The “wantrepreneur” is one who is only there with you when things are going good. Be wary though, because the second things hit the fan their true colors show and they are no longer by your side.
They panic, and question why they even went into business with you in the first place. This is the exact opposite of the co-founder you should seek.
15. They need a level of expertise in the business of your specific sector
Your partner needs to have some expertise in the niche of your business. This is important when thinking about planning future product development, customer acquisition strategy, customer support, and marketing.
You wouldn’t use Lebron James as the spokesman for a line of women’s health products, just as you wouldn’t choose a co-founder with talents that don’t lie in your specific business needs.
Even if their specific expertise does not lie exactly in your niche, make sure their expertise is complementary to what you need down the road.