Six Clues to Find Your Ideal Startup Co-Founder

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Most entrepreneurs who start a company alone soon come to the conclusion that two heads are better than one – someone to share the workload, the hard decisions, and the costs. In a moment of crisis, you may be tempted to take on the first person expressing interest. This would be a mistake, and could easily cost you your startup.

Or you might start the partner search by looking for someone just like you, who is creative, and with your passion for the fast-paced, multi-tasking atmosphere of a startup.  That could also be a big mistake, since you really need a partner who is complementary, and can tackle the operational roles, like marketing, finance, and sales.

If you think about it, you should realize that not everyone is ‘ideal partner material.’ Most of us learn that in other partner relationships, like dating and marriage. First you have to be clear on who you are, and who you can co-exist with, what complementary skills and resources you need, and what decisions in the business you are willing to relegate.

Second, in your search for partners, you need to be aware of the many considerations that can make the difference between success and failure in the business, as well as your satisfaction with the relationship.  Bringing money and connections is great, but other things are equally important:

1. Complementary strengths. Look for someone who is smarter than you, loves to do those things that you hate, and has experience and expertise in areas that you don’t. If you both love to do the same thing and you can’t learn anything from your partner, then you haven’t made much progress by taking on a partner.

2. Similar core values and goals. These core values determine how the organization operates, interacts, and communicates. Understanding the values of others takes time, so no ‘whirlwind’ partnerships are recommended. Work together for a while, and discuss common goals and objectives before you sign a long-term deal.

3. Decision-making process. Some entrepreneurs like to make all the decisions, while others enjoy team decision making. If two partners both like to be ‘in charge,’ then conflict rather than harmony may be the norm. Yet all partners need to be confident in their own abilities, are in line with and understand the bigger picture.

4. Compatible work style. Some people are early risers and expect to tackle the tough problems early in the day. Others don’t get rolling until noon, and save the hard discussions for after dinner. An effective partner is naturally compatible, or can adapt easily.

5. Shared vision and passion. Sharing a vision of the desired outcome is important to keeping harmony in every partner relationship. You should always look for partners who have a passion to become the best at what they do. A partner with no passion can’t help you.

6. Common regard for rules and integrity. Make sure you share a common regard for regulations and boundaries. Some people like to live just over the limit, while others have a high sense of integrity and morality. Misalignment on this point can cause high levels of stress and frustration.

Just as you would take time to explore if your love interest would make good marriage material, I encourage you to take some time to explore if your fellow entrepreneur would make good ‘partner’ material.

Once you have decided that it’s time to seal the deal, be sure to establish in writing your working agreement, as well as ownership shares. Only then is it time to celebrate and move forward together!


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