Finding a co-founder to start a business

cofounder dog treat

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Starting a business is not an easy task. You need to validate your idea, find first clients, invest time and money into it, stay motivated, and have someone you can bounce ideas off.

Some of us like to fly solo, but finding a like-minded person is often key to getting a new company off the ground and running. But where do you find the right co-founder and how do you convince them to join you?

Who do you need?

First, you need to establish whether you even need a co-founder. All of the above are great reasons to have someone join you, but if you can afford to do everything yourself, why share equity and revenue with someone else? Perhaps you could make it work solo and hire employees instead. Make sure that you identify which expertise or skills you are clearly lacking, before embarking on your search. This will help narrow down the type of co-founder that you need.

Example: you may be great at coding, but with zero marketing skills. Kind of like Steve Wozniak.

steve jobs wozkniak
Finding a co-founder like Wozniak

A brilliant engineer, a true Mozart who made the revolution in personal computing possible. Would we hear about him, if it wasn’t for Steve Jobs? Probably, but nowhere near the same scale as post-Apple launch. Would Steve Jobs jump onto the world stage without Wozniak’s genius? Potentially, but, once again, their combination was deadly, because they were so good in their own fields.

Every coder needs a marketer to promote their product, and every marketer needs someone to give them a product to promote. Every copywriter needs someone to get them their customers, and every accountant needs a company to audit.

Also, consider the financial standpoint. If you were to give away equity to another person, how much business could they bring in, thanks to their speciality/expertise/connections? If it makes sense to give a way a “slice of your baby” from this standpoint, then go for it!

Where to find them?

Finding a co-founder is never easy. You need to know where to look for them. Some of the most common methods – leveraging your existing networks: perhaps one of your friends would be a perfect fit for this? Are you active on Facebook or LinkedIn? Then publish a post describing the position and seeing if you manage to reach the right people that way (it could be a direct connection, or a connection of that person – social media can work in mysterious ways).

What’s even better is if you are still at college/university. It is no coincidence that we often hear about great co-founders finding each other in a common place of study. There has been a lot of criticism of the education systems in Western Europe and the U.S., however one thing you can’t deny it’s a great place to meet friends…and like-minded people.

Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin are a great example of co-founders finding each other during the sophomore year in college. While at the end they had to go through a very costly “divorce”, initially it was a great symbiotic relationship.

zuckerberg and saverin
Co-founders of facebook – Rykov Media

Zuckerberg was a fantastic programmer who new how to make a new online social network work, and Saverin had the funds and business sense to support Facebook during its rise. (Coincidentally, Wozniak and Jobs also met at college).

Apart from educational establishments, there are also ways to look for co-founders on more dedicated platforms that help with the search: cofounderslab.com is one such example. Bumble Biz for networking is also great to find fellow professionals in your area, and lastly, you can always try a co-founder subreddit.

Don’t be afraid to use every source at your disposal and spread the word that you are looking for someone as much as possible.

What is their experience?

The next step is filtering through “applicants”. This doesn’t necessarily mean literally going through piles of CVs – you are looking for a partner, not an employee. However, you need to make sure that your future partner has all the “substance” that you need. Just like with any recruitment process, ask them what projects they have worked on previously, or anything that they are working on now, that could be a testament to their skill. If they have worked with other teams – speak to those teams, see if (according to them) personality and skill level matches your expectations.

What are their goals in life?

This is absolutely key to figuring out if the person will workout as a long-term prospect. They need to be committed to the grind, building something from scratch and putting every spare minute of their time into it.

I once spoke with a colleague, who was working with me at the time, about starting our own business. He seemed very interested by the idea and he was great at what he did. Before we even launched, I thought we could go through the initial plans and roadmap to see what steps to take first.

“Sorry, can’t do Wednesday evening, got plans with my mates”.

OK, how about over the weekend?

“Sorry, going to York for a friend’s birthday”.

The following week?

“Got a lot of stuff going on at work, but let’s maybe discuss over a pint on Friday evening?”

 Needless to say, the mindset was not there. We are still great friends, but would I ever start a company with this guy? Not a chance.

Convincing them to join you

Convincing someone to come aboard should not be a hard process if the match is right. If you are speaking with an experienced salesman or negotiator, they may negotiate the terms longer than an average person. However, at the end of the day, if the idea sounds interesting to them, they will be incentivised to get to the practical bit as soon as possible.

Same goes for any other co-founder that you are looking to bring aboard. By the time you agree terms, you would have already discussed their motivation, expertise and the idea itself – meaning that subconsciously they are either a part of your company… or they are not the right fit.

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