10 Things That Show You’ve Found Yourself A Great Co-Founder

Looking for a co-founder to help you build your app business is a search fraught with pitfalls. We’ve put together the main filters that will help you find the perfect co-founder, so you can find someone who cares deeply about your product, but also challenges you directly. 

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. When the place you’re aiming to go towards is a successful product startup, figuring out if you want to go alone or together with someone can be a challenge.

There are a lot of advantages in finding yourself a co-founder or two to accompany you on your journey. Steve Blank,  a veteran entrepreneur and one of the founders of the lean startup movement, thinks finding the right co-founder is like finding the linchpin that makes the existence of your startup possible. At the same time, he comes with a warning: a third to a half of startups meltdown over team dynamics before they ever get funded.

Finding a co-founder is a double-edged sword for any entrepreneur, whether they’re just starting out or are a seasoned player. On the one hand, you might find the person that will make your vision become a reality. On the other hand, with one bad pick, your setting yourself up for failure.

The good news is that finding a co-founder that can set you up for success isn’t magical mumbo-jumbo. There are in fact traits that you can look out for, as long as you’re willing to put in the extra time when recruiting.

When you pick a co-founder, don’t aim for a shotgun wedding, but for a meaningful courtship.

You might just set yourself up in a match made in heaven.  

1. Their skills complete yours

The truth of the matter is that to build a successful app business, you need a developer, a designer and a hustler. You need someone who understands the building of the product, someone who thinks about function and looks and someone who can help you get onboard investors, partners and users.

Depending on where your skill level is in this triumvirate and in which direction you want to develop, you co-founder should bring onboard skills that you are lacking.

Filter your judgement on potential co-founders based on the skills that are vital for the existence of your business, not on the services they could provide for you.

After all, you can find accessible services through any freelancing platform, but your startup needs only so many linchpins.

If you think of your business in the context of a LEAN canvas filled out, each box is a pillar that makes your business viable. As long as you and your co-founders can cover all the pillars, you’ve got a chance to hit the ground running. If the co-founder you choose has skills that overlap with yours, you’ll both leave some pillars uncovered, and the whole thing will topple over in a matter of time.

2. They are good communicators

The problem with courting co-founders who are experts in fields you aren’t familiar with is that you’ll still need to understand the basics of what they’re doing. So more than looking for a co-founder who is an expert in areas you don’t know, look for a co-founder who relishes conversation.

Your perfect co-founder is someone who can explain even the most complicated things of their field in a way that makes sense for you. They are the kind of person who relishes educating others. They are someone who shows humility when they are questioned and are open to new perspectives. This kind of person will be a lot more easy to work with, in the long run.

You’d be surprised how much more innovative you can become when you don’t have to worry about the egos in the room.

Fair warning that this type of communication has to be two-sided to work. If you’re the founder putting the idea on the table, you owe it to be self-reflective. Keep your ego in check, so those around you can do their best work.

3. Your long-term vision for the product overlaps

One of the first conversations you should have with a potential co-founder is about how you align with them on the long-term vision for the product you are building. If the talk snowballs into better and better versions of your product, be optimistic.

But if you find yourself pulling into different directions on key decisions, take it as a red flag. You shouldn’t compromise from the start just to end up frustrated further along the journey. Nor should you feel bad if you decide that the person you’re talking to would be better off as a consultant or an employee later on in your company’s growth.

When long-term visions don’t align, it’s better to say an early ‘no’ than to be nice and set yourself up for later suffering.

4. They have experience relevant to your startup

When you’re trying to pick the right co-founder, consider how their complementary skills are still relevant in the industry you’re trying to enter. While it’s great if they’re experts at their job, make sure they are experts in the context you need them to. Whether it comes down to the industry, the customer profile or their social capital, make sure when they talk about their expertise, they apply it to your context, not their previous successes.

5. You assess work performance in the same way

Your co-founder is someone who sizes up their own work and yours to the highest standards possible in any situation. In truth, it’s a hard balance to strike:

as a startup, you have to work hard and fast, but if you want to make it, you can’t afford to cut all corners, or you’re just setting yourself up for failure.

That’s why the ideal co-founder will align with you on the quality of work you deliver. More than that, they will align with you on the quality of work you expect from your collaborators, employees or future partners.

Most importantly, remember that sizing up work performance doesn’t come naturally all the time. While it may be easier the smaller the team is, as your network of collaborators grows, having frank discussions of what passes off as good work and what doesn’t will keep you aligned for the long term.

6. You show the same level of persistence

Going down the road of building your own business eats up a lot of time and effort. And while your business is a reward by itself, having someone work at your side with the same level of persistence and dedication is motivating. So before you seal the deal, make sure your co-founder meets you halfway with the work and time you both invest in your startup.

You’re setting yourself up to work side by side with your co-founder for a long time, so make sure you’re keeping up with each other and pushing each other to always stay in top form.

7. You’re comfortable having arguments with them

You know that any relationship can have its tense moments that require ironing out. For some people, the idea of being in conflict with somebody is so anxiety-ridden they’d rather do anything than let an argument run its course. Others relish arguments and know that the back and forth will reveal important information and eventually, a clear decision.

Whatever your attitude is towards conflicts, make sure you build the kind of foundation with your co-founder where you feel comfortable disagreeing.

More than that, make sure that you are both good communicators under pressure and are able to reach a compromise that will move forward your company.

8. You help each other embrace failure

Entrepreneurship is no dancing ring for the perfectionists. When you’re building something from scratch, the truth is you’ll make mistakes repeatedly. But a great co-founder is someone that sees every mistake as a learning opportunity.

This doesn’t mean you or your co-founder can’t feel bad about the mistakes you make. But it does mean that you don’t play the blaming game and instead push each other forward to analyse what happened, gain the insights that you can and strive to do better the next time.

9. You can openly talk about money

There’s no beating around the bush, the financials of a fledgeling startup are a difficult conversation. Firstly, because founders tend to bootstrap to get their business running; secondly, because talking about money is still a difficult topic to approach.

Do yourself a favour and approach it directly and sincerely. Discuss your equity shares, the salaries you’re working towards, the profit margins you want to get. Discuss how you’ll redirect finances in case of stress situations, what kind of cash buffer you want to set up to keep your company afloat during rough stretches. Most of all, make sure you both feel the decisions you are making are fair for you both. Because if they aren’t and you’re not honest with each other moving forward, you’ll end up coming back to these in moments of frustration. Arguments without satisfying resolutions may be what tears your startup apart.

10. You can agree on a worst case scenario exit

When you’re starting something new, you don’t want to think about how it may go wrong. Truthfully, no one wants to do it. But as much as you and your co-founder are willing to invest everything in what you’re building, do figure out what the exit strategies are. What happens if you or your co-founder want out? What happens if your startup is doing badly? When do you pull the plug on the entrepreneurial life support?

Figure out what’s your no-go zone, so you can stop before you step into it and fall further than any safety net could catch you.

Figure it out before you get in so deep you can’t see the problems anymore. Make your contingency plans when you’re clearheaded so you end up living in a constant state of lying that tomorrow things will get better. Sometimes, it won’t. So decide from the get-go what red flags you need to pay attention to, no matter what. Then close this plan in a drawer marked ‘in case of startup apocalypse’ and go work your hardest to build a successful business. You’ll feel better just knowing the worst case scenario plans exist.

When entrepreneurs talk about finding co-founders, they tend to talk in terms of finding a life partner: you hope for a match made in heaven, you have to be willing to go through thick and thin with them, you have to put up with them in all their moods. But don’t go into looking for a co-founder with the mindset that you are looking for a best friend or an emotional crutch.

Yes, you are looking for someone who will care about you and what you are trying to build. But you’re also looking for someone who will challenge you directly and sincerely. For someone who can communicate with you clearly and whose expertise you respect. And your co-founder will expect you to do the same for them. After all, that’s the only way you can both get the best out of each other and build something relishes.

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