OnStartups

Pithy Insights On Selecting A Startup Co-Founder

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on December 8, 2006 18 Comments


This is a new installment in my continuing series of “pithy” articles on a variety of startup topics.  You can see one of the more popular previous ones here:  “17 Pithy Insights For Startup Founders”.

Without any further preamble, here we go:

Pithy Insights For Selecting A Startup Co-Founder
 
  1. Deciding who will be your co-founder will likely be one of the most important decisions you will make (next to finding your “life partner” or spouse).  One could argue that at least for some period of time, in the early stages, you’ll be spending more waking hours with your co-founder than your significant other.  I’m not the one that will make that argument because my wife reads my blog and she already knows it is true.

  1. Find someone who gets things done.  I’ll take a propensity for action vs. someone who rose up the ranks and made VP in some Fortune 100 company any day of the week.  Startups involve lots and lots of work (some fun, some not so fun).  Part of the value of your co-founder is you can distribute the work.  If your co-founder is too “strategy” focused too early, you’ll get buried because there’s too much to do. 

  1. There should be aligned interest and commitment from your co-founder.  You both have to (at some level) be committed to not only building a company, but the same company.  If one of you wants to create a lifestyle company you run forever (and reap profits) and the other wants to take a shot at a high-flying startup that gets sold or goes public some day, you’ll have a problem.

 
  1. One of the best sources for finding a co-founder are people that you have worked with in some capacity in the past.  While you are in school is a great time to locate potential co-founders.  The idea is that by having to gotten to know the person, you’ve already had a chance to see how they work, how they think and whether you’re likely to get along.  Without some type of prior exposure, your ability to pick a co-founder based simply on interviews, resumes and references is questionable.  I’d guess about 50/50 odds, but I’m in a generous mood this morning.

 
  1. There will be times in the startup lifetime that will test your relationship with your co-founder.  If you insist on starting a company with a family member or spouse (which I don’t recommend in most cases), make sure you understand the stakes before going in.  You were warned.

 
  1. Don’t get hung-up on titles too early (i.e. who is CEO and who is President, etc.).  If you find yourself spending too much time on this kind of stuff, there’s something wrong.  Personally, I like to use just “Founder” for titles in an early-stage startup until it makes sense to actually come up with “real” titles.

 
  1. Have the hard discussions around equity, compensation and responsibilities early.  This stuff does not get easier over time – it gets harder.  Deferring these conversations is a great way to ensure problems later.

 
  1. If after significant effort, you simply can’t find a co-founder, you either don’t know enough people, not enough people like you or the idea sucks so much that nobody is willing to take the leap with you.  Read the warning signs and be realistic.  Fix the problem (expand your network, improve your likeability factor or tweak the idea).  

 
The last one above is the most controversial, so I’m going to expand on it further.  A large number of you are going to have the reaction “but I don’t necessarily need a co-founder to get a startup off the ground!”.  I agree (though I would still posit that having one or more co-founders increases your chances of success).  In fact, I don’t just have to just posit it, people have done research and found evidence to support this.  In any case, needing a co-founder and being able to attract a co-founder are two different things.  If you don’t need a co-founder, fine.  If you’re unable to find/recruit/convince one, that’s a whole separate matter.  My guess is that if you can’t convince a suitable co-founder to join you, you might also have trouble finding/locating other members of the team, future clients, possible partners, etc.  I could be wrong, but I’m probably right.

What are your thoughts?  I have another dozen or so pithy insights on this topic that didn’t make this list (mostly because I couldn’t make them pithy enough).  Leave a comment with your own.