If I were to say finding Co-Founders needs an algorithm, would you believe?Featured

Around three years ago, I took the start-up plunge. At the time, I hopped accelerators and incubators looking for a co-founder. First, I was the plunge into start-ups that was chaotic; then it was finding a co-founder. My mentors and advisors asked me to choose people I get along with beyond the skill set match. My evaluation of the founders got stringent with the people I met.My first stint at understanding co-founder relationships began with our first venture fresh out of college. We never discussed stake and never considered the role split, we didn't have a founder agreement. We just wanted to “run” a start-up and scale. We understood collaborative work and each other’s work styles, but with decision making, we were at a loss.At IIM-B, where I did “Management Program for Women in Entrepreneurship”, I realized conversations like this make or break a company. But it became clear only when I started looking for one. I, first , started searching for a founding team; it was an easy route, discussed stake and found people with similar interests. Why do we need a co-founder?Most people I have spoken to say, you don't need one. Look at the study by Wharton School. You need a co-founder to share the load, to gain perspective of the business, to debate and get back on track when you are feeling low and to celebrate. Finding a co-founder is like dating;You need to figure a person out before committing them thoroughly. Easier said than done. Finding the right co-founder is an art and a science. Like a marriage, some factors guide in finding the right co-founder. Factors include value system, compatibility, stress test, hard conversations, beyond that there are other cultural norms, personal, short-term goals, working relationships and boundaries. While one may say, I am listing down the factors that help build an excellent relationship. Still, it is true, beyond tech expertise, market understanding, one needs to work on a co-founder relationship. Over the years, with some misses and catches, I have formalized some tests, protocols that I have used, to gauge if a person is a right co-founder. 1. The test of complementary skillsWe can define start-up founder skills with two focus points - soft-skills and roles & responsibilities of the start-up.Each founder needs to identify their own skill sets and figure out what roles they can pick up by them based on their experience. One could draw a Venn-diagram to check if there are overlapping skills. This way, the founder can share the roles and responsibilities equally. Really, it's a two-member team and time is the most valuable element. 2. The Newlywed GameIt is also essential to know the founders well. At one program that I attended, to gauge the compatibility between founders, we played the newlywed game. The newlywed game is usually a fun-filled game asking a newlywed couple questions about each other like ‘favourite colour’, ‘childhood home’, ‘first crush’ etc. While the newlyweds game does not help find complementary skills. It allows founders to understand each other better. In-order to support one another and build a healthy relationship, the founders should know each other extremely well.3. Define a feedback loop!Communication is the most basic tool that some early stage founders forget. Even though a founder could be a friend from a past life, if at the start, one does not define a framework for communication, there could be misunderstandings. To define a protocol, the founders need to keep in mind meeting flow, documentation of critical meetings and discussion points and also a healthy feedback channel. The most challenging aspect here is open and honest feedback. Some people do not take feedback well. Hence co-founders need to discuss and agree upon who open they would be criticism and in what way they should share the feedback. A straightforward way to share feedback is to list the positives and negatives. It is also essential to share the feedback regularly on a designated day. The founders must be open to share and receive on an ad hoc basis. 4. How do we work altogether?Building a start-up goes beyond discovering a business problem and solution. It is how the start-up executes. Your co-founder may not be a perfect match of the skills, capacities, conversation and rapport. A healthy founder relationship is an iterative process. The process does not follow a binary rule book. Founders need to be open to build an association with each other personally and professionally. Remember, as over-communication is essential, spaces between the founders are as much important. Tuckman defined the team formation stage - forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. The same applies here. Can you co-founder stick with you through all these stages?As a founder of a company, I have realized that my co-founder should have a ruthless work-style (similarity), looking at micro-picture (complimentary) and be a brilliant conversationalist (communication). This article summarizes the trials and best practices to find a co-founder. The algorithm is as compound as the start-up journey itself. In my course, I have failed to narrow down a co-founder, thus far, but from my learnings this is my algorithm.Let's talk about the algorithm:SWOT analysis of your business - find the complementary skills - soft and well as hardCreate a pipeline - post on Angellist, Linkedin that you are looking for a co-founder, ask mentors to help Define Red Flags - non-commitment, involved in too many activities, wanting to just learn and not contribute etc. Test the skill - ask a friend to do analysis, take feedback from known or unknown people who know the person Work with the person ( 1 month) - define a working relationship Commit only when you are comfortable but do not stop working on your idea or company.Keep repeating, but invest as much as you can without hampering the core vision of the company. Like dating, one must not stop looking for a co-founder. My advice is entrepreneurship is lonely and if you do not have a co-founder, find a strong support group or a strong founding team
I couldn't agree more with all of these points! Sadly many of us (you and me, I think!) learn this the hard way. Co-founder relationships in startups are SO important. It's critical to match your values systems, set expectations for the workplace culture, and define your roles and communication paths BEFORE you commit. All of these things can be tweaked with time - especially roles, and communication is something that deserves a retrospective frequently - but if you and potential partners are unable to discuss and commit to something upfront, that's a red flag that you'll have problems down the road. Thanks for writing this @Nida, words of wisdom for future entrepreneurs!
I know people say you don't need a cofounder. Data suggest that it might be advantageous not to have one ( But in my experience, having a cofounder injects joy into the journey daily.We spend a lot of time talking about finding a cofounder -- for good reason -- but sometimes neglect relationship management. My cofounder and I have a shared coach and do all of our sessions together. Sometimes we even receive coaching on the relationship, not us as individuals (ie what does the relationship want you two to know in this moment?). Highly recommend.I wrote a blog post about this here: for writing this, and a heavy plus one to waiting until you find the right person as defined by your values and needs.
I'm in the process now of building my team and was approached by someone who said I want to be your co-founder. I've been in the trenches for almost 2 years now and on one hand YES, please join me and on the other I ask, do I want to marry this person? I'm going slow and will utilize your SWOT analysis to peel back some layers and see if this is truly a "match". Melissa
Hi! thanks for this article. I am a newbie startup founder and going through the process of finding a technical co-founder (complementing my skill sets). How important do you all feel that you need to be in the same city/share the same workspace or is a long distance co.founder relationship manageable/good? I met a co.founder through co founders lab . He is based in Rome and I am based in Milan- so a 1 hr flight. I know that I have more flexibility than him to move (he has another startup in Rome and his wife/dogs) while I am single and only focused on this startup. Thoughts?