Startup founders, especially the serial kind, rarely come up short in the idea department. But finding a co-founder (or two) willing to help you execute, especially on a technical or Web-based idea, can be a challenge.
Where do you look? What skills should a co-founder bring to the table? And more importantly, how do you evaluate the relationship’s ability to withstand the ups, downs and inevitable pivots of startup life?
We asked 13 successful founders who are members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) to share their hard-won advice on what to look for in a startup co-founder (and what to do in the meantime to convince them you’re a worthy co-leader). Here’s what they had to say:
1. Prioritize Values Alignment
2. Find Your Complementary Skill Set
When looking for a co-founder, find your complement. Look for someone who is skillful at things you don’t know how or don’t like to do. It’s important to work with someone you can trust. Begin your search within your own network to make screening candidates easier. If you exhaust your own network, search within business schools, alumni networks, entrepreneur meetups and organizations.
— John Berkowitz, Yodle
3. What Don’t You Know?
Your co-founder should have a similar set of values and work ethic, but ideally should compliment you by being an expert in what you don’t know. If you are building a web-based technology and you are a sales guru, you might need a tech co-founder. You may be building a product and you need someone to market it. Figure out what you don’t know and find someone who knows it well as your co-founder.
— Aron Schoenfeld, Do It In Person LLC
4. Search Your Circle First
Your friends are people that already share some sort of similarity with you in the way you think. If the people you already hang out with have the skills you need, then reach out to them about the idea. With a friend, you start the business relationship ten steps ahead in comparison to starting with some one you just met.
— Raul Pla, SimpleWifi and UseABoat
5. Seek Authentic References
Seek references of people that have previously worked with the person. Friends can seem great to work with at first, but in a high-pressure startup environment, Everything can change. A breakup between co-founders is one of the most common pitfalls.
— Christopher Pruijsen, Letslunch.com
6. Build First, Recruit Later
If you’re working by yourself on the Next Big Idea, start building prototypes immediately. The startup world is heavily biased towards builders, so if you can’t prove that you can build a single core part of the future value of this idea, then you’ll be a worthless co-founder in this project. Sell yourself as a worthy co-leader for your company, and you’ll recruit better co-founders.
— Neil Thanedar, LabDoor
7. Vest Your Equity Over Time
It is very difficult to find the right co-founder. You need to have a similar work ethic and timeline for the investment, your chemistry has to mix well, and your talents have to be complimentary. Instead of getting all of your shares at once, consider vesting your equity over time so you have a fair solution if these factors do not line up as well as you expect, as is often the case.
— Doug Bend, Bend Law Group, PC
8. Be Willing to Go It Alone
Everyone wants to find the perfect co-founder, but if you want something done, do it yourself. Start building your company yourself and prove to your future team that you have a viable business model and some momentum. You’ll also keep more equity yourself if you’ve already made lots of progress on your business. If you are truly committed to your business, go at it alone.
— Matt Wilson, Under30CEO.com
9. Watch Out for Red Flags
It’s essential that you and your co-founder have complementary work styles. That doesn’t mean that you need to do everything in the same way, but that you can work effectively together. Defensiveness, fierce independence, lack of communication, and erratic productivity are red flags that someone might not be a good business partner.
— Elizabeth Saunders, Real Life E
10. See the Person as a Whole
You need to see how they act with their personal life, how they act when they’re dunk, and when they’re under stress, because you will be spending a lot of time with them. Traveling together is an excellent way to see someone under all of these conditions. Likely, it won’t be something you set out to do, but instead something the two of you will fall into.
— Nick Reese, Elite Health Blends
11. Take Your Time
If you are an entrepreneur in need of co-founder, you should limit your search to someone you know, even if it’s not that well. The risk is too big to bring a stranger into the fold, no matter how talented they may be.
— Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance
12. Partnerships Are Like Marriages
Treat it like a marriage. When you choose a co-founder, you are committing to a long-term relationship, so don’t just dive in — you wouldn’t get married after one date, would you? Build a relationship with potential co-founders, and find the one who’s the best fit for you.
— Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh Test Prep
13. Know What You Want
Know what you are looking for; don’t go out there just to find someone and evaluate them on the spot. Search to find exactly who you’re needing. If you don’t do this, your venture won’t grow and you’ll still have to find your missing links later.
— Jordan Guernsey, Molding Box
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.