How to Find/Select a Co-founder

Finding the right co-founder for your business venture can feel a bit like trying to find the right spouse. There will be trial and error, a few unsuccessful first meetings, and some soul searching. But finding the right person to share your startup journey with you will make a world of difference.

Many failed startups attribute their dissolution to founder disputes. To avoid the dreaded breakup, take your time when selecting a co-founder. Think long and hard about the type of person you want to have by your side for the next few years, or even decades. The right co-founder will be someone you can bounce ideas off of, and lean on when the road gets rocky. They will have the skills you lack, and share your vision for the company you’re working to build. Read on for tips that will help guide you in your search, and you’ll soon be ready to forge ahead with a dedicated partner by your side.

Shared Values

“Choosing a co-founder is first and foremost about having shared values and not solely a shared vision. Businesses can have many facets and definitions of success, and the goals can change over time. However, values, the essence of who we are as people, do not change. So, while you should seek someone who can be flexible in their goals and desires success as much as you do, finding someone who holds shared core beliefs in how to treat others, integrity, honesty, and work ethic, will set the foundation for your relationship and the mission for your business.” – Woody Sears, Founder of HearHere

A Proven Track Record

“Starting a new business comes with a lot of unique and unexpected challenges, and it’s a good idea to find a co-founder who has a proven track record of taking businesses to the next level. If they have been down this road before, you know they have the tenacity and drive to get the job done.

It’s especially important if you’re just starting out for the first time, because you can learn from their experiences. An experienced partner will also bring valuable connections to the table, which is something it would take you years to acquire on your own.” – Dylan Fox, Founder and CEO of AssemblyAI

History of Collaboration

“When choosing a co-founder, it’s advantageous to select someone you have history with. If you’ve collaborated successfully in the past, it will give you a leg up when it comes to establishing a strong relationship that is based on communication and trust.

When you’re starting from scratch with someone you don’t have history with, it can take a while to find your groove and determine how best to communicate with one another. You will also have a good feel for how they handle pressure, which will be very important if you’re embarking on a new venture together.” – Vino Jeyapalan, CEO and Founderof Kabo

Close the Gaps

“Finding a co-founder typically works best when you begin looking for someone who can “close the gaps.” In other words, your co-founder should be able to step in and complete the tasks that just may not be in your wheelhouse. Often, you may see a co-founder who deals with PR, attends most negotiations and meetings, and is the face of the company, while the other handles finances and oversees day-to-day operations. Just be sure that you’re not looking for your “match,” but rather someone who compliments your skills with different strengths.” – Marc Atiyeh, CEO of Pawp

Look for Resiliency

“Building a successful business will inevitably have a lot of ups and downs, and you need to pick someone who will be resilient enough to withstand the hard times. When talking to potential candidates, be open and honest about difficulties you’ve faced in the past and how you dealt with them. Ask them to do the same, and talk about how you would handle challenges together. It’s important to find someone who is as committed to your company’s success as you are, and who you can rely on.” – Jim Beard, COO of BoxGenie

Established Trust

“It’s important that your relationship with your co-founder is based on trust and honesty.You have to feel comfortable sharing your own weaknesses with your co-founder, and pointing out any potential snags that arise. Similarly, they should feel comfortable coming to you and raising concerns, or throwing out new ideas. A partnership built on trust will make you a better leader, and it will make your company stronger and more resilient.” – Ryan Lee, Co-Founder and CEO of Rooted

Shared Vision

“The ideal co-founders will have different skill sets, but a shared vision. If you have wildly different visions for the future of your company, it’s better to find that out from the start so that you can find a better fit. Have discussions about medium and long term goals early on, and revisit your goals often. They should be passionate about what you’re building together, and committed to seeing it through.” – Daniel Osman, Head of Sales at Balance Homes

Honest Self-Evaluation

“Before you can find the perfect co-founder, you should do an honest self-assessment and figure out what you’re bringing to the table. If you determine that your skills involve management and operational tasks, you should be looking for someone with more technical skills. Maybe you don’t have great people skills, but you have intimate knowledge of the production process.

In that case, you should look for someone who is a great communicator. Ask people around you for help identifying your weaknesses, and then look for someone who is strong in those areas.” – Remon Aziz, Chief Operating Officer of Advantage

Take Your Time

“When you have a great idea for a business venture, it can be tempting to hit the ground running and choose the first co-founder who seems interested. Maybe it’s a friend, a classmate, or even a relative. Keep in mind that it’s important to be selective; if your venture is successful, this will be someone you’ll spend the vast majority of your time with.

Have honest conversations with potential candidates, and do your background research. Choosing a friend as your co-founder has its benefits, but think twice if they’re unreliable or have one foot out the door. Your co-founder should have complementary skills, and be committed to your vision.” – Matt Woods, Co-Founder and CEO of SOLD.com

Ask Around

“When selecting a co-founder, it’s helpful to get some outside insight. Talk to others who know the person well, whether it’s former co-workers or mutual acquaintances. Just like you’d check references for a new employee, you want to learn more about the person you’ll be working closely with. Ask about projects they’ve worked on, how they get along with others, and how they’ve managed stressful situations in the past. Getting a second and third opinion will help to guide your decision.” – Sarah Pirrie, Brand Director of Healist Naturals

Similar Work Styles

“It’s important to look for someone who has a different skill set, but it’s helpful if you both have similar work styles. If they only want to communicate face-to-face, and you’re more of an email person, that will require some compromise. If they prefer to burn the midnight oil and work through the night, and you’re more of a 9-5 person, you may struggle to collaborate. Many work-style incompatibilities can be resolved, but it’s important to have those discussions early on, and to be willing to compromise in order to make it work.” – Jeff Meeks, VP of Sales and Marketing of EnergyFit

Look for Confidence

“Your co-founder should be someone who is self-aware and comfortable in their own skin. When you’re starting out, you’ll probably have to deal with a lot of rejection and unexpected bumps in the road. The last thing you want is to partner with someone who falls apart when things get rough. FInd someone who is confident in their skillset and in what you’re building. You should be able to lean on each other and keep driving each other forward, no matter what comes your way.” – Ryan Rottman, Co-Founder and CEO of OSDB

 A Personality You Like

“I’m surprised at how often this one gets missed. At the end of the day, if you don’t like your partner, all the other great qualities she possesses won’t be enough to sustain you through the long haul of building a business. You’re going to spend a lot of time with each other, probably more than you do with your spouses.” – Michael Fertik, Founder of Reputation

Seek Balance

“Startups will be more successful when they have two balanced partners. Many founders make the mistake of finding a co-founder who is exactly like them, rather than finding someone with complementary skills. Ideally, startups should mix skill sets. For instance, companies shouldn’t have two people that are both tech-focused and don’t understand the business or marketing elements of running a startup. Make sure that if one co-founder is tech-focused, the other has the business acumen to complement the other.” – Nora Leary, Co-Founder of Launchway Media

Choosing the right co-founder for your business is no easy task, and it requires both diligence and persistence. But when you do find the perfect fit, you can rest assured that you will have a dedicated partner who is as invested in your vision as you are. It’s worth taking the time to make the right choice, and thinking honestly about who you want to have on the journey with you.

Published December 4th, 2021