What Do You Want in a Co-Founder?  


There’s a saying that too many cooks spoil the broth, but when it comes to launching a startup, you should be eager to invite more experience into the kitchen. Going solo might seem romantic and exhilarating, but when every responsibility for running a business falls on your shoulders, you will undoubtedly start looking for someone to help.

However, good co-founders don’t grow on trees. Co-founder conflict is one of the leading causes of small business failure, which means you must be careful who you choose to accompany you on your entrepreneurship journey. Before you ask just anyone to take over half of your beloved startup, you should consider the following qualities of the best co-founders.

Educated and Experienced

You might love your brother, but does he have job experience in leadership positions? Has he completed relevant courses and earned credentials that warrant a place as your business partner? You might think experience and education are insignificant compared to compatibility, but you don’t want someone misinformed and misguided making significant decisions for your burgeoning business. The most important attribute venture capitalists look for in a backable management team is experience and knowledge, and these are what you should search for in your co-founder.

Fortunately, it isn’t impossible for your brother or close friend (or you, for that matter) to gain experience and education quickly. MBA online programs are easy to enroll in, flexible to individual schedules, and most importantly effective at imbuing the qualities most needed in entrepreneurs. In a matter of months, you and your co-founder could gain the knowledge and skill necessary to run a business.

Like-Minded Regarding Risk

Starting a business is always a risk, but how you approach risk will determine how your business performs. Unfortunately, different people respond quite differently to risk: Some dive head-first into risky situations and operate primarily on intuition, while others study risky situations for weeks before deciding on a strategy of action.

Disagreements about risk are relatively common, and you don’t want your business pulled apart because one founder is a daredevil and the other a bookworm. While you are considering your co-founder options, you should look for those who have a similar risk approach to yours. Then, the risks themselves – rather than the disparity in response – will impact your business.

Respectful of Roles

Still, your similarities should almost end with your attitude to risk. It is imperative you find a co-founder with a different skillset to your own, so you can occupy different leadership roles within the business. Because co-founders typically split the equity 50/50, it will be difficult to determine who makes the final decisions unless you govern different realms – and more importantly respect the other partner’s expertise in their role.

For example, you might be the creative leader making decisions about product design and marketing, but your partner might have more experience with financial systems and accounting. If you have a dispute about the budget, you should bow to his role. Meanwhile, if he or she has suspicions about your social media campaign, they should probably keep quiet until there is a real issue. You don’t want a co-founder who relentlessly tries to be your boss, and the best way to prevent that is to find someone with complementary skills.

Committed and Confident

Your startup should consume your life – at least for the first couple years – and that should thrill you, even through the long, hard nights and weekends of work. Your co-founder should have the same attitude, or at least he or she should have confidence in the business and commitment to see it thrive. Initial enthusiasm in your business idea is not an indication of co-founder suitability; instead, you should look for co-founders who have a history of loyalty and exhibit staying power. Unpaid bills, infidelity, and other dodgy behaviors are major red flags.

Friendly and Forthcoming

You want a co-founder who is competent, confident, and complementary to you and the business – but you also want a co-founder who is fun. After your co-founder candidates have passed the experience, risk, and commitment tests, you should ask yourself this question: Whom would I want to get a drink with?

Undoubtedly, you will be spending an ample amount of time with your co-founder, so it is imperative that you enjoy his or her company. Even if your business partner is the smartest person in the world, you probably won’t get much done if he or she is moody and difficult to talk to. While it shouldn’t be the only metric you use to distinguish worthwhile co-founders, friendliness is a definite must.