What Should You Look for in a Co-Founder?

Anna Johansson

November 19, 2018

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Starting a business is exciting, scary, time-consuming, and challenging. And while there are situations where entrepreneurs launch successful companies on their own, it's always helpful to have a co-founder by your side. But how do you find the right one?

What Makes a Co-Founder a Good Fit?

Most entrepreneurs make the mistake of selecting a co-founder who is close to them—such as a sibling, friend, neighbor, or colleague. Sometimes this works out, but this path is frequently taken because it's the easy way out.

A co-founder shouldn't be selected based on convenience or warm and fuzzy feelings. If you want to set your business up for success, cast a wide net and conduct a thorough vetting process.

Here are some of the characteristics and features you should be looking for:

1. Opposite Skillset

As people, we're naturally drawn to other humans who share similar interests, looks, beliefs, and affiliations. When searching for a co-founder, you have to resist the temptation to select someone who is just like you. This person may be fun to be around, but they won't add a ton of value to your business.

When starting a company, you want someone with an opposite skillset. If you're an extroverted salesperson, then maybe you need an introverted, analytical co-founder with a background in engineering.

2. Experience

Are you new to the industry? Is this your first time starting a business? Think about your weaknesses and try to find someone who has experience in these areas. Another person's strengths will give you an advantage that's otherwise not present when working alone.

3. Ambition

Bring on a co-founder who is equally as ambitious as you are. The paycheck or equity you're offering them should only be part of the motivation. They need to believe in the idea and be motivated to accomplish key objectives.

4. Willingness to Embrace Conflict

On the surface, conflict seems like a bad thing. Most people are natural pacifists and want everyone to get along. However, getting along doesn't always equate to success in the business world. Hire someone who is willing to embrace conflict, and you'll find that growth often stems from these challenges.

5. Similar Expectations

"You should find someone who shares your expectations on work-life balance," entrepreneur Michael Fertik advises. "Mismatches on hours or effort quickly and reliably lead to resentments. You don't need to be in the office at the same times unless for some reason your business requires it (as, for example, in a securities trading house). But you do need to share a view as to how much you will work."

You don't need to be the same, but you do need to have some similar goals and expectations. Similar goals can eliminate much of the friction that tends to weigh startups down when the going gets tough.

6. Tempered Ego

"One of the key tests for a potential co-founder is making sure they can put aside being right to do what's best for the partnership," entrepreneur Bruce Eckfeldt says. "This can be tough when you're looking for someone very technical and knowledgeable."

You don't want to bring on someone who lacks self-confidence, but you should be on the lookout for someone with a dose of humility. Otherwise, you'll be in for a long ride.

Take Your Time

Choosing a co-founder isn't something that should be rushed. Take your time and perform thorough research on each candidate. If none of the candidates feel like good fits, scrap the list and start over. Patience will prove to be your greatest virtue in this pursuit. You'll know when the right person comes along.

Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. She is also a columnist for Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com, and more. Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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