Finding a co-founder for your startup is one of the most critical business decisions you’ll ever make. They can become someone who splits the workload or a partner with complementary skills to achieve the things you can’t.
The best co-founders can be far more than a business partner on your startup journey. They can become a friend who can push and inspire you to achieve your goals and dreams.
This guide will walk you through the key benefits and some risks to watch out for, and provide you with the resources you need to find the best solution for your startup.
- Why You Should Have a Co-Founder
- Alternatives to a Co-Founder
- Finding a Co-Founder
- How To Find a Technical Co-Founder
- The 10 Steps To Finding the Right Potential Co-Founder
- 1) Write a Job Description for Your Ideal Co-Founder(s)
- 2) Look for Someone with Complementary Skills
- 3) Start With Your Personal Network
- 4) Expand Your Search
- 5) Screen Applicants Based on a Broad Range of Criteria
- 6) Identify Your Co-Founder
- 7) Craft Your Co-Founder Pitch
- 8) Date First to Test the Relationship
- 9) Define Your Key Business Metrics
- 10) You MUST Protect Yourself and Your Idea With a Founders Pledge or Founders Agreement
- Additional Resources
Why You Should Have a Co-Founder
Running a startup on your own can be a challenging and lonely process. We all need somebody who can share our business success story with us sometimes.
Two heads are generally better than one. The right co-founder can be someone you can bounce ideas off or a best friend you can rely upon through tough times. They can be someone who has similar interests or who shares your vision. Or they can be someone who is experienced and business savvy enough to help you find investors.
But starting a company with another person requires finding the right co-founder. Having the wrong founding team is one of the most common reasons a startup fails, particularly in the early years. About 1 in 5 startups fail because they were not the right team (14%) or because of disharmony between the team and investors (7%)
And if you’re still not convinced that you need a co-founder for your company, remember this. Great entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Steve Jobs at Apple all had co-founders.
Benefits of Having a Co-Founder
A Distinct Set of Skills
One of the most significant advantages of finding the right co-founder is that it gives you access to a greater pool of skill sets.
Play to Your Relative Strengths
Perhaps you are great at coding, but marketing isn’t your strong suit. Or maybe you have an excellent world-changing idea, but you lack the technical skills to get it off the ground.
An Opportunity for More Diverse Leadership
Depending on the area your startup wishes to serve, it can be beneficial to have diverse perspectives. That can be different genders, backgrounds, or personalities.
Reduce the Risk of Burnout
A solo entrepreneur is under constant pressure to succeed. Finding time to take a guilt-free day or week off can be challenging. Having a co-founder means that if you need a few days, you know that someone is there keeping the business ticking over. Burnout among startup founders is widespread.
Having a Trusted Confidant
The startup journey is full of twists and turns, some positive and some negative. Having someone who is invested in the success of your startup can help you ride the wave.
Access an Expanded Network
Friends, family, and former co-workers can all be part of your network. An extensive network gives you greater access to potential investors. But if you find a co-founder, they will also have a network that can provide access to money or other opportunities.
Risks of Having a Co-Founder
Different Risk Appetites
As a startup develops, you might find that your risk appetite doesn’t match your co-founders. This incompatibility can cause problems when it comes to a variety of issues. Some people are naturally cautious, while others have larger appetites for risk. With effective communication and smart planning, you can address these differences before they come up.
Potential for Work Inequities
Any partnership has the potential for an unequal division of work. In some relationships, one person is more committed and invested. These scenarios can lead to festering resentment.
Alternatives to a Co-Founder
Not every successful startup has a co-founder. Many unicorns have been successful with one founder. Jeff Bezos started alone, and last we checked, he seemed to be doing OK. Of course, being a solo founder doesn’t mean you won’t need any help. Here are some ways that you can get assistance without a co-founder.
Start Alone (But Get Help)
Some people work better alone. Holding on to all the power means making quicker decisions, staying true to a vision or original ideas, or building a startup culture in your image.
Find a Mentor or Advisor
A mentor or advisor can be an excellent substitute for some of the qualities a co-founder can bring to a startup. Mentors have typically seen and done it all, so they can advise you on a wide array of topics related to your business, like funding, product design, businesses practices, etc.
Join a Community
There are lots of online communities that look to connect founders and entrepreneurs. These platforms can be an invaluable way to access knowledge and advice from people going through similar experiences. Having a place to connect with and build relationships with like-minded individuals is an excellent resource. From here, founders can discuss the topics and issues that affect startups and get feedback on ideas.
Some of the best places online to find likeminded co-founders are:
- GrowthMentor – Have 1-on-1 conversations about growth, marketing, and everything in between
- No Code Founders – The community for founders who don’t code (or choose not to)
- Founders Beta – Match up with a Cofounder. Join a Startup.
- Indie Hackers (check out the Looking to Partner Up group!)
- CoFoundersLab – Providing innovators with a platform to engage and interact with CoFounders
- Founders Nation – Find or Become a Start-up Co-Founder
- AngelList – the world’s largest startup community… ’nuff said!
- Reddit /cofounder
- Starthawk.io – StartHawk’s platform is here to make your co-founder search as easy and effective as possible.
One alternative to finding a co-founder is to hire one. Hiring a co-founder level employee can give you a little time to see how your partnership model works. If the relationship is working, you can consider making them an equity partner in the future.
Finding a Co-Founder
Finding the right potential co-founder or co-founders can be a complex process. For many founders, the process is straightforward and organic because they have a friend, colleague, or family member who shares their belief in a product.
However, for others, the process can be drawn out and challenging and requires getting out into the world and networking so you can find your perfect match.
You Need to Network To Find Potential Co-Founders — Just Like You Need to Network To Find Potential Investors
Leverage your network: Look through your network and find people who have the skills, personality, or experience that you need.
Attend networking events: Networking startup events can be great places to find a co-founder.
Go to a founder dating event: Many meetup groups are designed to help entrepreneurs make connections.
Attend local university entrepreneur activities: A local university can be a great resource for finding co-founders. Universities frequently run specialised networking events that connect co-founders.
Relocate to a more likely location: Some areas have a high concentration of potential co-founders. If you live in an obscure or very rural place, your access to high-quality co-founders might be somewhat limited.
Join online “matchmaking” sites for business partners: These sites work a little like a dating site, but instead of a romantic partner, you can find a business partner.
How To Find a Technical Co-Founder
Many founders have great ideas but lack the technical skills to put them into place. If that sounds like you, you’ll need a technical co-founder to a) get your idea off the ground b) attract investment money.
How Do I Know if a Technical Co-Founder or Programmer Is Any Good?
When you’re evaluating a technical co-founder, you need to be sure they can come good on their promises.
Past work and projects are a great way to decide if a candidate has the pedigree to help your startup. Ask them to show you a portfolio of work they have completed on their own.
If you’re still in the searching stage, look for people who have worked at early-stage startups or have relevant side projects.
Do You Actually Need a Technical Co-Founder?
Sometimes, finding a technical co-founder can feel impossible. You can spend weeks or months searching for the right person, but never make the progress you want. You might feel tired and frustrated, time is wasted and your startup isn’t moving forwards. But don’t worry, all is not lost.
learn to code enough to bang out a prototype — this will also make you a better engineering manager if you can appreciate the technical craft and can empathize with engineers.Drew Houston, Dropbox Co-Founder and CEO, suggests learning just enough about to code
Learning how to code isn’t the only option. Here’s what Groove’s CEO Alex Turnbull did to overcome the lack of a technical co-founder.
The 10 Steps To Finding the Right Potential Co-Founder
Once you understand the advantages and disadvantages of finding a co-founder, you are ready to move to the next phase. Here are ten steps to finding the right potential co-founder.
1) Write a Job Description for Your Ideal Co-Founder(s)
The first place you need to start is with yourself. You should understand what strengths you bring to the table. Similarly, you should understand your weaknesses and limitations. If you are more technical, you’ll need to look for partners that are great at marketing, and so on.
Write out a detailed job description, so you’ll know what the right person looks like when they come along.
2) Look for Someone with Complementary Skills
Again, this is a crucial part of finding a co-founder. If you have a great idea but few technical skills, you’ll already understand why this step is essential. However, skills can mean lots of different things. If you struggle socially, identifying entrepreneurs with excellent social skills could be your best bet. Likewise, if your idea serves a community or sector that you don’t have experience in, you can benefit from finding a co-founder with a deeper understanding of that market.
3) Start With Your Personal Network
One of the best places to find a co-founder is in your immediate network. Look at your first-degree connections. These can be a person who you are already friends with, who work in a relevant industry, or who have the skill sets that suit the job or role.
4) Expand Your Search
Unfortunately, you can’t always find co-founders in your immediate network. But there are lots of places online that you can use to find talent. LinkedIn and Facebook both have lots of groups where potential partners can establish connections. If you still can’t find the right person, consider an online matchmaking app for startups.
5) Screen Applicants Based on a Broad Range of Criteria
A co-founder will become a significant part of your life. If your business is a success, you might end up spending more time with your co-founder than you do with your romantic partner. For this reason, it’s essential to consider various co-founders with different characteristics.
For example, if you need a technical co-founder, ensure that your relationship works on a business and an emotional level. Starting a company with another person will be full of ups and downs, so you need to make sure your relationship can survive.
6) Identify Your Co-Founder
Once you’ve seen what is out there, it’s time to pick the person you think will be the best fit for your company.
7) Craft Your Co-Founder Pitch
If you want to snag the best co-founder, you’ll need to be able to pitch them on your idea. In ways, this will be similar to a funding pitch, so keep your messaging clear, and be specific about your demographic targets and what problem your startup will try to solve.
Some of the best co-founders will be in demand and have a lot of choices. You need to blow them out of the water to ensure they are interested.
8) Date First to Test the Relationship
A business partnership needs to go the distance. So be careful to not rush into it. It’s worth using the first few months to get acquainted with the other person and evaluate the relationship before making it official.
So spend time discussing your shared vision of the project, your plans, and your respective philosophies. Maybe even go out and do activities that aren’t work-related, like sports or a night out. It’s best to identify prospective areas of friction as early as possible to avoid messy contractual wrangling further down the line.
9) Define Your Key Business Metrics
Defining key business metrics is one of the most important steps when choosing a co-founder. Success can mean different things to different people. Some entrepreneurs are happy to have a well-regarded niche product, while others won’t stop until they have market dominance. So make sure you are both on the same page with a shared vision and compatible working styles.
One of the best ways to do this is to outline your key metrics. If you can’t agree on common goals at this stage, it won’t get more manageable in the future.
10) You MUST Protect Yourself and Your Idea With a Founders Pledge or Founders Agreement
Like any relationship, a co-founder partnership always starts positive. But what happens if things go wrong. At a minimum, you should protect yourself and your ideas with a Founders Pledge during the early stage of your company.
Then, as your startup moves into the funding stage, a Founders Agreement is necessary. To find out more about Founders Pledges or Agreements, click here.
- Create your founder agreements (https://seedlegals.com/start/founder-agreements/)
- The Founder Dating Playbook (https://review.firstround.com/the-founder-dating-playbook-heres-the-process-i-used-to-find-my-co-founder)
- 50 Questions for Co-Founders (https://proof-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/firstround/50%20Questions%20for%20Co-Founders.pdf)
- The most important questions to ask a potential co-founder (https://blog.dormroomfund.com/post/the-most-important-questions-to-ask-a-potential-co-founder)
Finding the right co-founder for your startup is an important process. Not every entrepreneur will need a co-founder to help them build and launch a product, so co-founders can take on various roles, such as technical, marketing, or strategic, and so on.
While picking a co-founder from your existing network of connections is a great idea, increasingly startups are being formed through online meeting places that join and connect entrepreneurs with interested business partners. These forums are a great resource for connecting like-minded people.
The most important thing to remember is that the best co-founder should share your vision and enthusiasm for the project. A business partner is someone who you’ll need to spend a lot of time around, so ensure that you have a relationship that works on an emotional and professional level.