Cofounding a company is a long-term commitment. It is a partnership much like a marriage: of complementary equals who bring different things to the table and are willing to spend much of their lives together, building something they both love and want to see exist and come to life in the world.
But how do you find, meet, get to know, and pop the question to your ideal cofounder? We put together a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about meeting cofounders.
What you should look for in a cofounder: what complementary skills you should be searching for in potential partners.
Where you can meet a cofounder: everything from entrepreneur matchmaking apps to networking events.
How to know you’ve found the right cofounder: the questions you should ask and the activities you should do together to make sure you’ve both found a good fit.
How to start to build your cofounder relationship: what to discuss in your first meeting as cofounders.
What should you look for in a cofounder?
While you and your cofounder can have many differences (and differences can even be helpful!), the one thing you cannot compromise on is having a shared vision, set of values, and goals. You must have the same high-level vision for the company. A cofounder relationship will not work if one person wants to make quick money through an acquihire and the other wants to build the company for a decade or more into a standalone public company. A cofounder relationship also won’t work if one person wants to prioritize monetization and the other person wants to prioritize reach without consideration for revenue. Make sure you have the same goals for your company from the start.
Complementary skill sets.
You ultimately want a well-rounded team that can work together across skill sets. If you are an engineer, find someone who is strong on the business side. If you are building a consumer product where design is crucial, make sure you find a strong design partner if you're not a designer. If you are building a technical company but not technical yourself, find a technical cofounder with those skills. If you're better at big-picture creativity and weaker on execution, find someone who is detail-oriented and organized. If you're not a great communicator, find someone who is. Cover all your relevant bases between you and your cofounder.
Similar risk tolerance.
Not everyone is meant to be a founder. In fact, many people are not! Making the jump to be a founder requires high risk tolerance. Many people are naturally risk-averse, so it takes a special kind of person to want to be a founder. As you build your business, you will continue to take risks, forgo safe salaries, make personal investments of time and money, and experiment as you build something new. Make sure your cofounder also shares your high risk tolerance.
You'll likely be spending more time with your cofounder than your best friend or partner over the next ten years. You should like this person! And if you haven't already developed strong rapport, that it's something you can build. Make sure you can talk to them easily and openly and truly enjoy their presence and your conversations.
You will need to trust your cofounder as much as you trust other people that are close to you. Make sure they are a genuinely good person with strong morals and excellent character. You want them to be the kind of person who will do the right thing, not just the easy thing, even when situations get tough.
Where can you meet a cofounder?
Elpha is a community of 50K+ women in tech. Through Elpha, many women have found their cofounders . Post about your cofounder opportunity on Elpha, share more about what you are building to get feedback from members (one of which could become your cofounder!), and leverage the global Elpha network to reach out to potential cofounders. You can also join thousands of women in the Founders Community on Elpha.
Ultimately, founders are builders, and Product Hunt is one of the best places to find builders. Look for products that have launched in similar spaces and connect with the people who built and launched these products.
Many startup-interested people are on AngelList. You can filter by candidates who are looking to make a move and filter by relevant skills and location. An Elpha member shared her experience using AngelList to find her cofounder.
Use your university’s alumni directory and/or university filters on LinkedIn to find other alums from your school. Alums are more likely to respond to fellow alums than they are to cold outreach. Plus, the shared experiences you have on the same campus (maybe even with the same professors and in the same student groups!) may help you build the initial rapport.
Go to different tech meetups, such as Startup Weekend . If you need to find a technical person, spend time at engineering-focused events. If you need to find a business-oriented cofounder, go to sales or marketing-type events. Gillian Morris, founder of Hitlist, shared how she met her technical cofounder through tech events in NYC. Beyond more general and casual meetups, Elpha members shared different opportunities for dedicated cofounder pitch events.
Specialized, professional networking apps present another avenue for connecting with entrepreneurial people. An Elpha member shared how she met her cofounder through the networking app Shapr.
Don’t forget to look through the people you already know, whether former colleagues or even close friends! An Elpha member shared her 12-year journey with her cofounder who was first her close friend.
Beyond your own network, enlist the help of your family members, friends, trusted peers, advisors, mentors, and investors! The more people’s networks you can tap into, the better.
Accelerators, Startup Schools, and Summer Programs
Some accelerators like Entrepreneur First are focused on helping founders find their cofounders. Startup schools, like Y Combinator’s , can serve a similar purpose. Here's how an Elpha member found her co-founder through a startup school. Similarly, dedicated early-stage startup summer programs can be a great place to find a cofounder. One Elpha member shared how she found her cofounder through a summer program.
Attend hackathons and get some hands-on experience working with other builders. An Elpha member shared an opportunity to find cofounders through a sector-specific hackathon.
Many wonderful connections have first started on Twitter. Instead of the standard cold email or LinkedIn message, look for people sharing interesting perspectives on Twitter (or other social media sites) that align with what you are building, and don’t be afraid to send them a DM to start a conversation.
How do you know you’ve found the right cofounder?
Meet them a few times.
Don’t make the big ask right from the start. Get to know them over several coffee, brunch, or dinner meetings. Maybe switch it up and go on a hike, a short road trip, or out for drinks. Make sure they are the right person for this company and for you. Through these interactions, try to answer some critical questions.
Interest: do they have a genuine interest in your space? Do their eyes light up when they talk about the industry?
Communication: do you think their communication style is compatible with yours?
Rapport: do you have lots to talk about or does the conversation fall flat?
Alignment: do their life goals resonate with you? Are they at a stage of their life where they can take risks?
An Elpha member shared more about what questions you should ask yourself (and your potential cofounder) when getting to know them.
Get them excited about your big vision.
Your cofounder will likely be taking a big pay cut to start a company with you, so show them what's in it for them. Focus on the autonomy, the agency, and the impact they can have working alongside you. What will they get to work on? What would the company look like if everything worked out ten years from now? Who are the people you'll transform through your product?
Work on a project together.
In a relationship, you need to date before getting married. Similarly, in the cofounder search, you need to “date” before popping the “cofounder question.” Work on something together first to actually feel out what it would be like to collaborate. Even if you get along with someone, actually working with them can be an entirely different experience. An Elpha member highlights the importance of working together before becoming official cofounders. When working with them on the initial project, pay special attention to their work.
Strengths: do they cover your intellectual blind spots? Are they bringing new insights to you in a respectful way?
Style: are they prompt and organized? Do they go above and beyond? Are they thorough? Are they resourceful? Are they capable of working with uncertainty?
Ask mutual connections for references, especially those who have worked with them or known them in a more immersive capacity (such as through college). Beyond what you can observe through a short period of working together, try to get to know who this person truly is through references. What is the reference’s overall impression of this person? What do they do when the going gets tough? Do they have a give-first attitude?
Gauge their interest.
Just like a marriage proposal, it should be no surprise to your potential cofounder when you actually ask them to be your cofounder. Try floating the possibility of going full-time, keeping it general (for a general employee position or a cofounder role). Then see how they react. Read their body language and observe the non-verbal cues. Are they excited? Do they seem shocked or elated? Is their first instinct to ask about compensation or ownership? Are they asking for a follow-up conversation or do you feel like they're resistant to the initial idea? This should help you decide if you should dive deeper.
If you sense they are genuinely interested, take the time to get to know each other more deeply. Interview each other, including all the questions you have not approached yet because you were previously afraid to ask! Take personality tests to understand your instincts, strengths, weaknesses, and compatibility. Do a SWOT analysis of your (would be) founding team to more strategically analyze your blind spots.
Then, when the moment feels right and your gut tells you to go for it, pop the question!
How do you start to build your cofounder relationship?
They’ve said yes! Now, beyond all the legal and technical paperwork and steps, what should you discuss in your first meeting as cofounders? Here are a few ideas from Elpha members who shared their first conversations with their cofounders . Some other questions to consider in your initial conversation to set a strong foundation for your cofounder relationship include:
What happens when one of you wants to quit?
What is your company culture?
How will you receive feedback?
How will you make decisions?
What is your relationship with money?
What is your communication style?
What is your work style?
What is your equity split?
Spend time discussing these answers, and agree to the relationship in writing, if you can.
While the whole process of finding a cofounder can be challenging, it's important that you take your time. You want to build your startup alongside someone who is smart and interesting and shares your values.
We hope this guide has helped you start your journey in search of your cofounder.
For more guides and expert advice on the founder's journey, plus candid, insider conversations from the women behind the scenes in tech, join us on Elpha.