What you should look for in a co-founder

Picking a co-founder is as important as finding a suitable spouse. It’s a huge decision that will have long-lasting effects on you and your business. Mess it up and you’ll be visiting the lawyers in a few years. Get it right, well, you’ll be able to take vacations in Seychelles for weeks at a time. Starting a business is hard and running a successful one is even harder. So, cue the “two heads are better than one” quotes. Having someone who’s as invested in the success of your company as you is not only good advice, it’s quickly become standard practice. Printivo, Andela, Iroko TV, were all founded by a team of people. The era of the single founder is fast phasing out. So, the chances are, if you want to run a successful startup, you’ll need to get a cofounder too. Here’s what to look out for in your search:

1. Complementary Skill Set

First things first, look for complementary skill sets in your business partner. This assumes that you already know your own strengths and weaknesses. Since you’re just 50% of the team, it’s safe to say you have 50% of skills needed to successfully run the business. Your cofounder should bring in the other 50% that you can’t. For example,  if you're not technical, you look for a technical co-founder. Having different skill sets also helps you more easily define roles in the business. As Kathryn Minshew, founder of The Muse, says, "Every divergence can make you stronger, as long as it's not a difference in values and ethics.”
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2. Alignment of Mission and Passion

It's important to make sure your goals are aligned. While the business partnership may have been born out of a common interest, you should ensure that both (all) of you are on the same page regarding the future of the company. Often founding teams break down because they want different things from the venture - one person wants to sell the company early, while the other wants to build a big company. Talk it out and be aligned on the short and long term goals of the company.

3. You have to respect each other

You can’t marry someone you don’t respect. If you do, you won’t stay married for long. In the same way, business partners must have respect for each other. It has to be someone you value what he/she brings to the table. That means, you must consider this person equally as intelligent and hard-working as you. So, even though you may not have the skills and expertise to do what your co-founder does, appreciating what he/she contributes to the company is important to maintain a respectful relationship.

4. Be open-minded and flexible

Working with open minded people is blissful. Hence, you should partner up with someone who doesn't sweat the small stuff, and understands the flexibility necessary in building a startup. Look for a co-founder who welcomes experimentation and isn’t afraid of failure. As Mitch Gordon once said, a startup that succeeds without pivoting multiple times is the exception that proves the rule.

5. Make sure your co-founder is disciplined and patient

The average tech startup takes one to three years to become profitable. During this period, life will be tough on both of you. You'll be spending more, taking pay cuts, working long hours, and the future is still yet to be sure. You’ll be running on pure conviction and you’ll need someone who gets that and is willing to wear it out with you in the trenches. The true measure of a person is not how they behave when things are going well, but when things are going badly. Things may go badly and often in your startup at first. So choose accordingly.

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