When I started my first company, my biggest challenge was finding the right co-founder. I brought on five other co-founders before finding “the one.” The struggle is real…
Since then, I’ve co-founded eight more companies including NoD, where I currently mentor and advise early stage tech startup founders. Hopefully the following 10 tips can help you avoid some recruiting pitfalls and help you find and keep the best possible co-founder for your new company. The first 5 will help you get him or her on board. The last 5 will help you keep him or her on board.
- Timing is key. If you’re still in the idea stage, it might be too soon to look for a cofounder. While you work on validating your business plan, start networking with potential cofounders. When the business plan is ready, and you have interest from investors/customers, then start approaching cofounders more aggressively.
- Part-time doesn’t work. If this “startup” is actually a side project, then the company can do just fine with a part-time cofounder. But if this is truly a new company that plans to make money and grow, then bring on someone who can commit full-time and who has skin in the game.
- Focus on the short term future. Don’t start talking about a 5 year plan and an exit strategy before you’ve even made your first dollar. Instead, put together a detailed plan for how you plan to get your first customer or investor in the next 90 days.
- Don’t get too close. If you’re co-founder is your best friend or your spouse, be careful. It’s not a bad idea to work with someone you trust and know well. But at the end of the day, be sure you’re both on the same page about which relationship (the friendship or the business partnership) is the priority.
- Be clear with expectations. How many hours a week do you expect your co-founder to put in? How many hours are you putting in? How do you define success 90 days from now? 1 year from now? Agreeing on the validity of the business plan is easy. Aligning personal goals and expectations is another!
- Learn each other’s work styles. Once you have your co-founder on board, you’re in the trenches together. Learn what makes you perform well as a team. Who takes the lead in meetings? Who is better on the phones? Who is the better negotiator? Are you more productive remotely or in-person?
- Learn each other’s specialties. Teams tend to perform better when individuals are responsible for doing what they do best. When the team is just a handful of people, everyone will be wearing multiple hats. However, when possible, you should have your engineer focus on engineering, your sales person focused on sales, … and so on.
- Learn how to make decisions together. In the early days, you will need to make tons of decisions on a daily basis. Having a protocol for making decisions is key. Which decisions will require a vote? Which decisions can a co-founder make independently? Which decisions should require input from the advisory board?
- Spend time together out of the office. Maintaining a strong work-life balance and building a healthy company culture starts from day one. Make it fun and get the blood flowing. This can look like taking a break to go for a walk together or planning a team outing or happy hour once in a while.
- Celebrate your successes. The positive morale generated from each small win (getting your first client, bringing on a new team member, launching a new product, etc.) is a key ingredient for your company. Do your best to take time to celebrate these small wins and to build momentum. Chances are you’ll see an increase in productivity as well.
That’s all folks! If you are a startup founder currently looking for a co-founder, I’m happy to meet up and offer specific advice based on your particular situation.
As we all know, every startup is different. There is no formula for finding the right cofounder. You have to be persistent. And you have to care about your team as much as you care about your idea or product.
And if you don’t get either one right on the first attempt… It’s okay. Join the club. Keep learning, keep building, and keep it real.