In what can be one of the defining decisions of your startup journey, finding the right co-founder can be incredibly daunting and stressful. Compounded by the fact that a quick google search for advice presents over 8m ‘essential MUST read’ articles, vlogs, lists etc that you have to consume before making a decision.
Without wanting to add to the noise; we get that you’re a startup founder, that you’re already stacked and that there’s a balance to be had between doing your homework and due diligence whilst still moving forward. And let’s be honest we get that if you hit someone with the “100 essential questions to ask your potential co-founder” no-one is going to want to co-found with you!
So, having helped many early stage founders find co-founders, I’ve distilled down what I believe to be the five most pertinent questions to ask yourself before co-founding.
- Is this a co-founder of convenience?
When you’re spinning a million plates the path of least resistance can hold great appeal. But often those closest to you, friends and colleagues who happen to want to start a company at the same time as you, are not the best fit. Don’t commit to whoever is available – dedicate time to finding the right person for you, your skills gaps and business needs. Is their only motivation to escape their current shi**y job, or do they have a deeper reason for wanting to build your particular business?
Consider what are the big skills gaps you have now, and anticipate what they’re likely to be in the next couple of years – is this the best person to fill them? do they even make your top 10?
- Have you proved productivity?
Can you work well together – if you and your potential cofounder are productive together, it’s worth continuing. If not, stop. Early stage productivity is predominantly all about quickly generating and proving / disproving hypotheses to validate and grow your business.
Figure this out by doing a piece of work together, make it real and an active challenge you’re facing on your startup, the more challenging the work the better. Remember you wouldn’t marry someone without going on some dates first!
- Is your co-founder ready to cofound?
If you are ready to go right now, you don’t want to waste time and energy with someone who is on the fence and dabbling with the idea of being a founder, yet will ditch you and the startup for the first well-paid job they’re offered.
Be open and honest about your expectations on the commitment they need to make, the risks and what you expect the pay off to be…and when. Ask them to do the same and see how aligned, or not, you are.
- Could your co-founder actually be a first employee or advisor?
It’s important to remember that co-founder is a lifetime title, don’t give it away to someone purely to solve a short-term immediate need. I.e. not just because they can intro you to that potential customer, or because they are willing to build your MVP.
In a co-founder you’re asking for long-term, equal commitment and sacrifice, to be part of your business. And therefore you should be compensating them with fair splits on equity. If your motivation for bringing them onboard could be achieved with a lesser role, or if you’re not willing to give them a true and fair co-founder equity split then maybe what you’re looking for is not a co-founder.
- Do you want to work with this person for the next 10 years?
Taking a startup from an idea on a piece of paper to a successful business takes years of perseverance. There’ll be times when you and your co-founder disagree, times when you both want to quit and times where you’ll question each others commitment.
Can you see yourself persisting and overcoming the known and unknown challenges with this person over a long period of time? Thinking long-term helps you visualise where you want your business to end up, and if you can see that person being there next to you when you get there.
If the answer is no to any one of the above, see at as a red flag, two or more and I’d stop and start your search over.