Building a company is no easy task. It’s more than just a product. It takes a team of skilled and dedicated individuals who work together towards a common goal. As smart you are, it’s impossible to build a company on your own. Bill Gates is a brilliant man, but even he had the help of Paul Allen. Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The list goes on; the point being that a co-founder is as necessary to a successful business as a great idea.
Why Do You Need a Co-Founder?
Many startup entrepreneurs have great ideas that often relate to a specific skillset that they have. Great software developers can identify a problem that they and all of their colleagues run into, design a fix for it, and want to market that product.
But when pharmacists have the biochemical knowledge and idea for a great drug, how do they get it made? What about when you build an irreplaceable product that cuts, skins, and cores an apple (kudos to whoever invented that one)? Who is going to make it? Who is going to market it? Who is going to sell it? Finding a co-founder is all about complementary skill sets.
What Should You Look for in a Co-Founder?
A great example might be if you have great programming skills, but have never needed to make business decisions. You may not be equipped to build your own startup on your own. The search for the right partner is as important, and even as nuanced, in business as it is in love.
The type of partner you have can be the stuff of dreams or of nightmares. So, how do you figure out what kind of person you need, and then where do you find them?
What To Do When You Don’t Know Anyone?
If you’re trying to figure out who your co-founder should be, that typically means that you don’t have a long-standing relationship with someone you already know you want to do business with. That’s okay, but you should then focus on yourself.
Think about what your needs are. Think about what your skillsets are, and then specifically think about what skills/experience you lack. Is there something important to this process that you know nothing about? What skillsets will be most necessary for your overall business success, in regards to who you are and how you operate as well as what the idea or product is.
Think about what your ideal co-founder’s role will be within the business. Are you good with numbers but not so hot with business operations? You might be great with numbers but horrible with people, so will your co-founder need to be able to lockdown sales and marketing? Self-awareness will be key to your search.
The Biggest Factor When Finding a Co-Founder
But what might be more important than just a complementary skill set is trust. Do you trust this person? A business endeavor can last for more than 10 years. Are you prepared to spend countless hours over the better part of a decade with this person? Is this person of high integrity? Are they resilient? Will they crack when things get tough? These questions might be just as important, if not more so, when considering the merits of your future co-founder.
Where To Find a Co-Founder?
The next question after what kind of person you need is, naturally, where to find them? Popular wisdom says that this is similar to finding the right job. Where do you look? Start with your network. Friends, colleagues, family, and personal contacts who might fit the bill. If you don’t already know the ideal person, reach out to your network to see which of your existing contacts might know someone.
Meeting a total stranger who looks great on paper will often times stand in second place to someone your favorite co-worker or boss recommends to you as being the perfect fit. Someone who comes with the trust and backing of someone you already know and trust is a priceless demarcation of value. If someone you trust can vouch for someone, you’ll pay more attention to them. This goes for anyone whose advice or opinion you trust: co-workers, employers, friends, and professionals. Let the people you know make referrals to you. They will assist you and accelerate the curve of trust.
What if your personal network doesn’t come through? Don’t despair. Not everyone is 2-3 degrees of connection away from the perfect startup co-founder. This is where you need to leverage your internet and research prowess by accessing the large number of quality networking websites available to people in this exact situation. There are now website popping up that match founders. It’s like dating for business partners.
Alternative Co-Founder Options
If you’re not comfortable with “dating” sites like these, there are more traditional online options. LinkedIn, which you would have already utilized, is a great complementary tool for getting in touch with people connected to companies or persons you find in your research elsewhere. Linkedin allows you to see professionals’ experience, expertise, and how you’re connected with them.
No results online? Hit the pavement. Use sites like Meetup.com, Technori Pitch, Techweek, Startup Weekend, TechCocktail, and TechZulu to find events and industry cocktail hours for entrepreneurs in your area and meet live people. You can also sign up for a co-working space, like WeWork, that creates a community of solopreneurs. Meeting someone face-to-face can give you a better feeling for someone than their Linkedin profile will.
More Traditional Co-Founder Options
If these don’t work, here are some other non-traditional methods of finding a co-founder.
- Friend from School
- Someone you met at the right place and the right time
- Your parents
- Your siblings
- Former co-workers
- Your Spouse
- Former Vendors
- Former Competitors
- Cold Calls
- Unrelated Classes
- Online forums
- Trade Show
Intelligence, determination, domain expertise, and compatibility are the four major points you should be considering when finding a co-founder. It’s more important than anything else.
We mentioned earlier that finding the right business partner is as important, and as risky, as finding the right marriage partner. You are legitimately marrying yourself to your co-founder, for as long as your commitment to the product or venture shall last.
Companies can and do last longer than many marriages. Do you want a partner who will be thinking as much about aiding your own efficiency as her own? Someone can be perfect as far as background, intelligence and experience, and still not pull their own weight.