Written by Lidia Vijga, co-founder at DeckLinks
With 65% of startups failing due to co-founder conflict, according to Harvard Business School professor Noam Wasserman and the author of The Founder’s Dilemma, how do you find a co-founder for your startup that you can trust to perfectly complement your skills and share your vision?
Finding a co-founder isn’t about seeking someone who merely echoes all your concepts; rather it’s about discovering someone whose strengths can fill up gaps left by yours while constructively questioning your assumptions. A competent co-founder should bring out the best in you while mitigating risks. This balance cultivates deliberate decision-making processes for startups, leading to a more successful and sustainable business.
But most importantly, a perfect co-founder is someone you would enjoy working with for long hours without burning out. Together, you will spend countless hours brainstorming, strategizing, and executing plans. It’s highly likely that you will end up spending more time with your co-founder than with your family. Therefore, it’s crucial to have a good working dynamic and a strong desire to see each other succeed. When you enjoy working together and have fun while doing it, you can build a stronger competitive edge that makes it more difficult for other startup founders to compete with you.
You have to figure out how to work hard without burning out. People find their own strategies for this, but one that almost always works is to find work you like doing with people you enjoy spending a lot of time with.
Table of Contents
- Understanding the importance of a Co-Founder
- Identifying the necessary qualities in a good Co-Founder
- Where to find a Co-Founder
- The best way to evaluate a Co-Founder for your startup
- 7 Steps to finding the right Co-Founder
- What percentage does a Co-Founder get?
- What happens next after you find a Co-Founder
Understanding the importance of a Co-Founder
When starting a company, having a co-founder can be crucial for a variety of reasons. One of the most important is that it helps to distribute the heavy load of risks and responsibilities that come with starting a new venture. It also means you have another person who understands the nuances of your business just as well as you do. This mutual understanding can be invaluable in critical moments or when facing obstacles, as you have another mind on deck to help make important decisions and find solutions.
Furthermore, having more than one founder in the startup can bring unique perspectives and a lot more connections. The right co-founder may have skills and technical expertise in areas where you lack experience or know people who can help your business grow. Their different viewpoints can also lead to innovative startup ideas and solutions that you may not have thought of on your own. Investors also tend to favor startups steered by two or more founders since this implies teamwork and lessens dependency on a solo founder.
Identifying the necessary qualities in a good Co-Founder
If you want your startup to succeed, it’s important to find a compatible co-founder who has the necessary qualities. When evaluating potential co-founders, look for individuals who exhibit the following characteristics.
Strong knowledge in areas where you lack expertise
When searching for a co-founder, it’s crucial to identify the skills that can complement your strengths and weaknesses as I mentioned earlier. An ideal co-founder should have knowledge and expertise in areas where you may lack proficiency. For instance, if you excel in technical skills but struggle with marketing or business development, you’ll want to find a non-technical co-founder who’s got those fields covered. Together, you can make a great team and build a strong foundation for your startup.
Resilience, flexibility, and determination
Being a successful entrepreneur is not just about having the right set of skills; personal qualities also play a significant role. A good co-founder should exhibit resilience, flexibility, and tenacity, as most of startups face countless challenges during the establishment and growth phases. It is essential that your co-founder can handle pressure while maintaining optimism and focus on achieving strategic goals.
High conviction and low ego
It’s not easy to come across someone who has the ideal mix of confidence without arrogance. A co-founder who exudes fearlessness and remains grounded with humility is a rare and valuable individual to hold onto.
Trustworthiness and high ethical standards
From my own experience, trustworthiness is another attribute that must never be disregarded while evaluating potential co-founders. Trust forms the cornerstone of any thriving partnership; thus ensuring this individual upholds high ethical standards becomes a top priority. Given you’re likely to invest more time interacting with your co-founder than anyone else over forthcoming years – it’s crucially important to opt for someone reliable who matches your level of commitment toward nurturing a flourishing venture together.
Good communication skills
When searching for a co-founder, I believe it’s essential to find someone with excellent communication skills. The ability to articulate ideas and thoughts clearly is critical in any business partnership. Effective communication can help prevent misunderstandings and foster a more productive working environment.
Ability to make hard decisions
Another significant aspect when choosing a co-founder is their capacity to make decisions under pressure. Startups are often rife with uncertainty; hence having someone who can navigate through tough times confidently is invaluable. However, this can be a challenging trait to identify in someone, and you may not know how the other person will react until you both face a difficult situation.
Key decision-making abilities include:
- Ability to think critically under stress
- Confidence in making difficult choices
- Capability to take calculated risks
Shared passion for solving problems
Finally, a shared passion for building a startup cannot be overlooked. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you both have to be in the same space pursuing similar interests. Rather, it’s about having a common drive to solve complex problems and create products that customers will love.
My co-founders and I have a folder named ‘Customer Love‘ where we collect screenshots of all the social media shoutouts from our customers, as well as their direct messages thanking us for the product we have created. And because all 3 of us are driven by solving problems for our customers, this folder serves as a source of motivation for us during challenging times.
Previous experience in building a startup
If you are new to the startup world, it would be beneficial to partner up with someone who has prior experience in building a startup. This person doesn’t necessarily have to be a serial entrepreneur or a founder who exited from a highly successful unicorn. Most founders generally fail their first few companies before achieving success. I’d look for someone who has previously failed a company as a solo founder and wants to build another company but this time values the importance of having a co-founder.
Where to find a Co-Founder
You should now have a solid comprehension of the reasons why seeking a co-founder is vital for your startup and what qualities to look for in a co-founder. But, you may be wondering where to find this individual. Here is a list of the most reliable channels where many co-founders have successfully met and established thriving ventures together.
Industry-Specific Events – ideal for finding a co-founder in your niche
Immersing oneself in the dynamic hive of industry-specific events often unlocks pathways to discover a co-founder for your startup venture. The spectrum of such gatherings, be it trade exhibitions, symposiums, workshops, or conferences is rife with opportunities to connect with individuals whose interests, goals, and set of values echo your own.
Additionally, these events go beyond just being regular networking hotspots; they are transformed into educational arenas that offer market trend insights as well as consumer behavioral patterns specific to their industrial sector. You might even come across a groundbreaking idea during panel debates by experienced entrepreneurs or experts that could help your startup grow within your area of interest.
Tech Conferences – a great way to find a co-founder in person
These tech-focused junctures draw professionals thirsty for learning about freshly emerging trends in their field. A tech conference is a great place where you can both network and spotlight your idea or business model. This could strike a chord with potential co-founders who vibrate on the same frequency as what you’re endeavoring to create.
YC Co-founder Matching Platform – find a co-founder with the help of algorithms
Through conversations with other founders, I have discovered that the Co-Founder Matching platform by Y Combinator is an excellent place to find your other startup half. It almost works like a dating site and it’s completely free. To connect co-founders, YC has created an impressive matching engine that filters co-founder listings and shows only the profiles that fit the preferences. I have personally met several startup founders who have found their co-founders on the YC Co-founder Matching Platform after going through YC Startup School.
Currently, YC Startup School has the largest networking pool, and it has facilitated over 100,000 matches. If you are in San Francisco or New York City, you could also join their exclusive in-person co-founder matching meetups.
Social Media Platforms – great for finding a co-founder with expertise
Social platforms such as LinkedIn, Reddit, Indie Hackers, and X (former Twitter) serve as indispensable conduits for individuals to engage and connect. They are also a great resource for startup founders looking for co-founders. But as the founder, it is up to you to use these platforms wisely to find the right business partner for your venture. This means more than just announcing your search – you need to join industry-specific groups or participate in relevant discussions on r/Entrepreneur and other subreddits. I also recommend to follow business influencers including Peter Thiel and Sam Altman as they attract like-minded individuals who could potentially become your business partners in the future.
Hackathons – Ideal for finding a technical co-founder
Hackathons are collaborative events that provide a platform for individuals with diverse backgrounds and experience levels, ranging from students to seasoned professionals, to come together and collectively tackle problems that are of mutual interest. By assembling teams of talented individuals from a variety of fields, hackathons foster a dynamic environment that encourages innovation, creativity, and resourcefulness.
Participants work together closely to develop solutions, leveraging their unique skill sets and perspectives to produce novel and effective outcomes. This collaborative approach not only facilitates problem-solving, but also promotes knowledge sharing and networking, making hackathons a perfect place to meet your future co-founder.
One of the best places to start is by considering your former colleagues. In fact, I met both of my co-founders while working at previous jobs. Many successful startups were created by founders who have previously worked together, so it’s definitely worth considering. Make a list of people you’ve worked with in the past, and think about who among them possesses the necessary skills and capability to be your co-founder. Having a personal connection with your co-founder can be a great advantage, so don’t overlook your former colleagues.
Founder Institute is the largest pre-seed startup accelerator in the world, providing support to founders at the idea and pre-seed stages to help them achieve their next milestones. Their network of leading advisors and investors has empowered entrepreneurs across 200+ cities and 6 continents. Founder Institute also organizes about 1,000 free startup events every year, where local entrepreneurs can connect with potential co-founders, network with investors, and learn from advisors.
Before enrolling in the program, I recommend reaching out to startup founders who have taken the program from the Founder Institute to discuss their experiences.
Startup Incubators – ideal for finding a co-founder with a startup idea in early stages
If you are in the ideation stage of your entrepreneurial journey, joining a startup incubator can prove to be very beneficial. Incubators provide you with opportunities to meet with mentors and advisors who can guide you in the right direction and connect you with an ideal co-founder from their network. Additionally, you may come across potential co-founders with whom you can collaborate. This could be someone who has a similar business idea as yours or someone who is already working on an MVP that complements your vision. Incubators often provide co-working spaces, networking events, and workshops, creating even more opportunities to find a co-founder.
The best way to evaluate a Co-Founder for your startup
It’s always a great idea to work on a small project together with a potential co-founder before making it official. This mini project could be a simple tool or an app if both of you can code. Or you could participate in a hackathon and collaborate on developing a solution together. The main goal of this project is to get a sense of how well you work together and understand the team dynamics. You’ll also be able to determine if you enjoy working together or if you clash and make each other miserable.
7 Steps to finding the right Co-Founder
Whether you are looking for a technical co-founder or you would like to find a co-founder who will take care of the business side of the startup, these steps will help you navigate the journey.
|1.||Define your vision.||Clarify your startup’s mission, values, goals, and product vision.|
|2.||Determine needed co-founder skills.||Make a list of technical, business, and soft skills that would complement your own. Describe your own co-founder type and define the ideal work style and personality to match.|
|3.||Search network and communities.||Ask colleagues and advisors for introductions. Attend startup events, join startup school and sign up for co-founder matching sites or other online communities for founders in early stages.|
|4.||Interview online or meet for coffee.||Hold preliminary video chats and conduct 1-2 hour coffee meetings to assess fit in person.|
|5.||Try a project together.||Work on a mini-project, hackathon, or trial period together. Observe working style, communication, technical abilities, and dynamic.|
|6.||Define founder roles and equity.||Agree on founder titles, responsibilities, vesting schedules. Determine fair equity split and sign co-founder agreement covering intellectual property, vesting schedule, etc.|
|7.||Build relationship |
|Make frequent communication and transparency a priority.|
Socialize together to strengthen interpersonal bond. Agree on processes to resolve disputes and conflicts.
What percentage does a Co-Founder get?
Deciding how to divide equity among co-founders is often a daunting task, especially for first-time entrepreneurs. As tempting as it may be to divide it unequally based on who came up with the initial business idea or who has been working on it longer, it is recommended to split equity equally, especially if you want to ensure a successful and long-lasting partnership.
An equal split of equity ensures that both co-founders are equally invested and committed to the success of the company. It also means that both co-founders are expected to make the same contributions in terms of time, effort, and resources. If there is a founder conflict or other issues that arise in the future, the equal split of equity can help mitigate any disputes and provide a fair solution for both parties.
It’s particularly important to consider an equal split if you’re bringing on a co-founder at a later stage. This will help ensure that they are just as motivated and invested in the company’s success as you are. Additionally, it can provide a sense of security for both parties, as it shows a mutual trust and respect for one another’s abilities and contributions.
What happens next after you find a Co-Founder
Once you decide to work together with your co-founder, it’s crucial to establish a legal framework and put everything you discuss and agree upon in writing and signed contracts. This legal documentation ensures that both parties understand their roles and responsibilities and that there is no ambiguity in terms of equity and other arrangements. It also minimizes the possibility of future misunderstandings or disputes that may arise between business partners.
You may also be interested in reading: How to Find the Best Startup Lawyer for Your Company
As a co-founder, it’s important to establish an open communication, providing positive feedback, and recognizing your partner’s contributions. It’s also crucial to ensure that you and your business partner are on the same page regarding the company’s vision, goals, and strategies. Having a clear understanding of each other’s expectations and aspirations will enable you to validate, build, iterate, and get to revenue much faster.
In a startup, speed and execution are among the most critical factors for success. Therefore, it’s essential to establish a culture of agility and creativity, which includes experimenting with different approaches and embracing failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Finding co-founders is crucial, and when you do find them, a sense of great dynamics ensues. With the right person, the hard work that goes into building a startup won’t feel like work at all. Instead, it will be exciting and motivating as you both work towards a common goal. You’ll find that your conviction in your ideas only grows stronger when you have someone to share it with. And with a lot of resilience, a couple of pivots (trust me those are inevitable), and a little bit of luck, your startup will have all the chances to succeed.
To find the right co-founder, first, identify your own weaknesses and search for a business partner who has complementary skills. Explore your personal network including previous employment, join hackathons, attend startup events, and leverage online platforms like LinkedIn, Indie Hackers, Y Combinator, and Reddit.
A good co-founder should have complementary skills, a shared passion for solving problems, a strong work ethic, and previous experience building a startup. They should also have good communication skills, high conviction, low ego, and the ability to handle conflicts and make hard decisions in difficult situations.
Red flags include a lack of passion for the business idea, poor communication skills, inability to handle conflict, and a history of failed partnerships or unethical behavior. Make sure to thoroughly vet potential co-founders and consider working together on a trial basis before committing.
To ensure a successful partnership, establish clear roles and responsibilities, put everything in writing (including equity split and decision-making processes), and have regular check-ins to review progress and address any issues.
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About the Author
Lidia Vijga is a co-founder of DeckLinks, a SaaS platform that supercharges PDFs with Video narrations, CTAs, and real-time Analytics. Lidia is an early tech adopter, and as a passionate tech enthusiast, she actively supports other founders and shares her knowledge in building startups.