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Many startup founders struggle with knowing how to find a co-founder. They know they need one, but don’t know how to find one. Let us help.
We are going to share some advice for any startup owner looking to find a co-founder. We will tell you how to track down potential business partners, and how to find the ideal co-founder during the early stages of your company.
If you are looking for a potential co-founder, read on. Don’t want to follow our advice? You may end up with the wrong co-founder, stopping your business before it gains traction.
What Is a Co-Founder?
It means exactly what you think, co-founders are people who help ‘found’ the company. They help with setting up the initial groundwork for the company. For example, while a technical co-founder may help establish the technical aspects of the business, a financial co-founder may help a business secure funding, manage cash, or establish business connections.
Co-founders don’t necessarily have the initial startup idea. They just help to make it a reality. They are a business partner during the early stages of a business.
A business is built on the work that the founders put in. People like Steve Jobs would never have succeeded if they didn’t have partners like Steve Wozniak by their side. Co-founders bring in expertise that the others won’t have. They contribute knowledge to help make a successful startup.
The problem is that during the early part of a startup’s journey, it is tough to find a co-founder. You have an idea (and hopefully a bit of funding), but convincing the right person to take that journey is tricky. This is why we want to give you advice on finding the right co-founder during the earliest stages of your business.
Why Is Having a Co-Founder Important for Start-ups? — 5 Key Reasons
Before you start the process of finding a co-founder, it may be worth knowing why bringing in co-founders is important. A lot of people entering the startup world are confused about why they would want to share equity with someone else. However, we can assure you that most successful companies, and most successful startups, have brought in good co-founders. It is what helped them succeed.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant your business idea is or how brilliant you are as a person; you need the right partner, or perhaps multiple partners, to succeed.
Sharing the Workload
There is a lot of work that needs to be tackled during the early stages of a business. Technical aspects need to be worked on, as do financial aspects, direct and digital marketing, etc. Even with the help of the right co-founder, a lot of people will find themselves working to the bone. Although hopefully, this is work that will eventually pay off later on.
Bringing in additional co-founders will at least spread the workload out a little. This means less pressure on one person and bringing the product to market far faster. It also means people can take breaks on occasion. Nobody should be working 24/7, not even the founders.
No matter how skilled a single person is, they won’t know everything. For example, Steve Jobs was fantastic at marketing, but he didn’t code a single word. Likewise, Steve Wozniak even said that Steve Jobs was a terrible engineer. Apple could not have been built by Steve Jobs alone.
The same applies to any start-up. Nobody is going to have all the knowledge, so they need to bring in other founders who do. When a founder has somebody to bounce ideas off of and share knowledge with, the business has a much bigger chance of being successful. We don’t think there is a single company that has been successful and built by a solo founder. Everybody has had help. Build the right co-founding team, and the chances of business success will go up.
Support and Motivation
Starting a business is difficult. There are a lot of hours that need to be worked, and for a good chunk of that time, you will get the feeling that the business isn’t going to succeed. Even successful startups have tons of hurdles in their way.
One of the major benefits of having co-founders is motivation. When things are looking a little low for the startup founders, people can provide support and encouragement. Sometimes, you just need that bit of a perk up.
Support goes a long way in business, and many co-founder relationships are incredibly strong as they have pulled through some of the hardest times for the business, together.
When a start-up is looking for funding, it can increase its credibility by bringing in additional co-founders. When pitching to investors, those investors want to see proof that the right team has been brought in. They want to see that people have the necessary skills to bring the idea to fruition. Two or more founders will work well for a business. It is rare that a solo founder can achieve proper funding, even with a fantastic idea.
Many potential co-founders may even have experience working with start-ups. They will already have credibility in building up businesses, and this looks good for potential investors, enabling start-ups to have a higher chance of success.
There are a lot of decisions to make when running a business, particularly in the early days. Make the wrong decisions? A business could crumble.
Single founders tend to be terrible at making decisions. Once they have their heart set on something, they fail to analyse it from every perspective. This is why many startups fail during the early business stage. The decision-making is poor. Even if they succeed, they are more likely to become one of the international marketing failures in the latter stages.
When you bring in additional co-founders, decision-making becomes easier. Other co-founders can give their input and expertise on any decisions. Having an honest conversation about every business decision that needs to be made ensures that there is a much, much bigger chance of making the correct decisions.
Finding a Co-Founder: Where and How?
This leads us to the big question; how do you actually find a co-founder? The short answer is that finding co-founders is difficult. Really difficult. A startup will probably have no shortage of people wanting to work with them. The challenge is finding the right co-founder (or co-founders).
This is what we want to look at here. We want to give you a few options to help you find a co-founder. This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination, but we can guarantee that the vast majority of solo founders have gone about finding co-founders using these methods.
Remember, try to use as many methods as you can. This is the only way to find the right co-founder for your startup.
Universities are a great way to find co-founders. Many major businessmen have done it, including Bill Gates. The major advantage is that it is easy to find like-minded people. If you are on a university course, then you can talk to people that are on that course with you. You can also try to make friends with people on other courses that may host people with the necessary skills to take your business to the next level.
If you are not at university, you can still look at people studying to see whether any of them could be a great fit for your business. The major advantage is that you have a ton of hungry people looking for jobs and to put their skills to the test.
The problem with finding a founder for your startup this way is that many of the people at universities are inexperienced. They have yet to work properly in a real business environment, which means their decision-making may not be the best. They are coming at things from an academic perspective, not a business perspective. Still, it could be a great option to find a founder for your startup if you are using other methods too.
There are many startup events designed specifically to connect co-founders with new businesses. A lot of people find a co-founder using one of these networking events.
When you use networking events to find a founder for your startup, you will be interacting with other entrepreneurs who know they want to get into business. They know that they have talents to bring to the table, and they want to help other businesses.
There is no denying that you will probably find the right co-founder if you attend a few of these events. You may even expand your personal network for future business. The problem is that many people in that room are looking for other entrepreneurs to bring onto their business, not to work for other startups.
Many startup founders find that these events are a waste of their time. They get nothing out of it, outside of a few connections. You would have to turn to a lot of events to get even the slightest bit of interest in your startup, and, even then, you are competing for founders with other like-minded businesses.
In recent years, a lot of online resources have started to appear that aim to connect startup founders with a potential co-founder. Some of these online platforms are very formal communities. Forums, websites, etc. are places where people go with the sole purpose of pitching their ideas and hoping that other people like what they see and consider bringing their expertise on board.
Other communities are nothing more than Facebook and LinkedIn Groups where people share their ideas, often among a ton of other discussions about start-ups. The importance and many advantages of social media cannot be underestimated.
Online communities have the same positives as networking. If you look hard enough, you will probably find the right co-founder for your business. However, you will have to deal with a lot of competition for the best co-founders.
Startup incubators are groups where you can head to start your business. They are designed for those that are still building their product, or in the early stages of a launch. Startup incubators can provide branding, mentorship, working space, and support.
There will be other startups working at the incubator. If you network with them, you may find a potential co-founder for your business. Although, do bear in mind that many of the people may not be willing to come on board. They have their own businesses to focus on.
The problem is that startup incubators cost money. Some will have a flat fee each month, while others will take equity in your business. A startup incubator is great for getting your business off the ground, but we probably wouldn’t suggest using one purely for finding a co-founder.
How to Evaluate Potential Co-Founders?
If you are lucky, you will have a lot of potential co-founders putting themselves forward for the role. You can’t hire all of them, though. You wouldn’t want to. Most people are not going to be a great fit for your business.
Before you bring on a co-founder, you need to ensure that not only are they going to bring the expertise your business needs, but that you will be able to work with them. That is what we want to help you with here. We want to give you guidance on the things to consider when finding a co-founder.
Background & Experience
This is the ‘big’ one. The whole reason why you are bringing a co-founder on board is that you need their expertise to help your business. They need to deliver value. For example, you wouldn’t hire a technical co-founder if they didn’t have the technical skills to bring your idea to fruition.
When considering a potential co-founder, consider what qualifications they have. Think about the value that they have delivered to other businesses in the past.
The right co-founder will have:
- Experience working in a particular area of a business, preferably with a startup.
- Provable achievements in the business world, or at their university if they have yet to graduate.
We won’t lie here. Unless you have a truly amazing idea, you will struggle to find 100% perfect co-founders. Many of them will be fairly new to the world of business, or even fresh out of university. However, if they can prove they have the relevant skills, then you are onto a winner.
Motivation & Commitment
Co-founders tend not to make a lot of money. Most co-founders won’t make a penny until the business starts to get investment, or is successful. This means that anybody that you bring on board should be passionate about the idea, not about the pay cheque. They may never get a pay cheque.
Motivated and committed co-founders have the drive to be successful. They will be constantly pushing themselves to ensure that the business gets their full time & energy. They have the drive to make the idea become a reality. A drive to get the company to the point where it is able to make money.
You need to choose a co-founder that is in it for the long haul. The best co-founders are those that can talk passionately about the idea. If somebody demonstrates a love for what you are trying to accomplish, then they could be a great person to bring on board.
If people only talk about money (and you are not bringing them on in finance), then they may not have the drive to see a startup through the early stages.
Effective communication is important for a business. You don’t want anything to be lost in translation. A co-founder needs to be able to make their ideas clear, and they need to be able to speak up if they don’t agree with a decision. However, they also need to be clear about why they don’t agree with that decision.
Good co-founders will be responsive to any questions that you may ask them, and they should be willing to share their own ideas too. You don’t want a co-founder that is willing to go with the flow. That isn’t why you brought them on board.
When looking for a potential co-founder, it may be worth having a lengthy discussion with them. Float some ideas off of them, read their written stuff, etc. Try to get a solid idea of how they communicate and whether it is clear enough for you.
Personal Values & Vision
Your fellow co-founders should share your vision for the company. If you are dreaming big, they need to be dreaming big. Everybody should be on the same page and should have the same overall goals. You don’t always have to be on the same page about how you reach those goals (ideas will be bouncing around often), but the aims should be the same.
When people share the same vision for the company, there is a lot less conflict, which makes it easier to get things done.
Lots of companies have almost tripped up by having founders working on different wavelengths. Take PayPal, for instance. PayPal was formed when they bought out Elon Musk’s X.com. The problem is that Elon Musk didn’t share quite the same vision for PayPal as the other founders. In fact, they believed he would probably hinder the company with his ideas (this is likely to have been the case). The result? He was pushed out, and PayPal became the largest online payment company in the world.
Compatibility and Working Style
A lot of people bring on former colleagues as co-founders. Not just for their knowledge, but for the fact that they know they can work with them.
You could have the greatest potential co-founder in the world. They could have a lot of great ideas, but if you don’t gel with them on a personal level, and your working styles are not compatible, then the business won’t succeed. Even a small personal problem could kill a company.
When searching for a co-founder, always opt for people with similar personality traits to yours. Find people that have a similar attitude towards working (you don’t want a laissez-faire person when you are much more hands-on with your approach).
Thankfully, it should be easy to determine whether a person is compatible with your ideas during those early discussions with them.
References & Reputation
When analysing a potential co-founder, ask them for references. Make sure that you check up on those references too.
References will allow you to establish a person’s reputation in an industry. Find out whether they have left other businesses on a sour note. Find out what they have accomplished where they have been working.
Not all potential co-founders will have a huge amount of experience working for full-blown businesses. However, you can check their references with clubs/courses at any schools they attended, or even their work experience.
We would put this much lower down on the list of ways to find the best co-founder for your business. This is because a lot of great co-founders do not have much experience. Think of this as more of a ‘sweetener’.
Approaching and Convincing Potential Co-Founders
Found a potential co-founder? It’s time to approach them! Remember, you need to go into that meeting with the right attitude. Before you head and meet a co-founder, make sure you know the following:
- Why you are bringing that person on board, i.e. what they can bring to your company.
- The amount of equity you are willing to give them.
- A clear vision for your business. It is important that you are honest and transparent about this.
Even an informal meeting with a potential co-founder is still a business meeting, so we suggest that you brush up on your effective words for business meetings. This way, you can be incredibly clear on your vision for your business, as well as have a bit more knowledge about how you can convince that person to come on board.
Your job is to convince any potential co-founders of the viability of your start-up. You need to be clear about what your ideas are. You need to be clear about where you see your business in the future. If you have stats, reports, etc. that can back up your vision, then bring them along to the meeting.
The person needs to know why they are the best fit for your business. You need to tell them what they are bringing to the table. Make sure that they are clear about their roles and responsibilities.
Any co-founder is going to want to have an equity stake in your business. Go into that business meeting knowing exactly how much equity you are willing to give up. Don’t offer it all at the start. It gives you room to haggle over the equity split. However, make sure that the equity split is fair, i.e., a person shouldn’t have 5% equity if their knowledge is what will make the product what it is. It isn’t uncommon for a tech co-founder, for instance, to have closer to a 50% stake in the business.
Remember, everything discussed in the meeting should be written down or recorded (let the other person know that you are doing this!). Any equity splits need to be clearly outlined.
Finding a co-founder is one of the most important things any solo entrepreneur can do. If you want to bring any start-up idea to fruition, then you need to be working with people that have the knowledge to make this happen. Nobody succeeds in business alone.
There are plenty of options for finding potential co-founders. You can look at universities, attend networking events, go to startup incubators, etc. You may even want to turn to other startups to see whether you can use some of their staff.
Don’t just bring the first person you see on board, though. Talk to them. Find out whether you have a shared vision for your business, and whether the two of you will work well with one another.
Startups that spend their time forming the best possible team for their company have a much greater chance of success. There is a far bigger chance of them being able to secure investors, too.