100% in agreement that a cofounder is someone who is willing to go full time and more. I think they also have to be willing to go 100% before there is money or even any traction.
A cofounder is not someone who waits for funding, profitability, or hedges their bets by keeping a full time job or working on other start-ups.
This is a solid list. Probably the perfect checklist for a co-founder I've seen.
I'd like to add one more based on my own experience. Co-founders have to work in the same space. It is easier to get stuff done when you can talk about it really easily all day and night long.
I totally agree that someone isn't a real co founder until they work full time on it. It's so hard to iterate when work's being done part time.
Nice list Dharmesh. The "part time co-founder" especially struck a note from my experience where I had to part ways with the co-founder. Nice to see you covered that.
I'd like to add that along with believing in the idea and you, the co-founder also has to have a good balance of optimism and ready to try things that may not eventually work. Startups is all about optimism and especially in the early stages there's little room for pessimists - not to be confused with the 'voice of experience'.
I would add
8. They have a knack of surprising you in a positive way. They always deliver more or something new.
They also need to be critical when needed and have the guts to disagree with you.
Excellent article. It's timely for me, as I'm facing this predicament right now. This checklist is exactly what I needed. Thanks!
Great thoughts, I agree wholeheartedly. I would also add that "co-founder beliefs should be aligned." Let's say your start-up intends to ship something social. Having a co-founder who only thinks about revenue models from the start is probably not a great fit whereas a co-founder who believes that focusing on building a great product and user experience in hopes of gaining traction in order to reach scale is likely a better fit. After all, no point in obsessing about revenue if you don't have the user base to monetize.
1- they should definitely stab you in back.
2- Even if you like them and they do the above, there will be a point when you start to dislike them.
3- At-least should have a professional code of conduct!
Great article. Dealing with those sort of things myself right now, many of the points struck a note.
Exactly the advise I should have been give with my last start-up. I made a bad choice for co-founder and wasted 6 months waiting to activity that never came and then finding a way to have him exit the business. It killed the company.
Great advise. Every single entrepreneur out there should read this. Period.
I would add that you have to be able to communicate and work through issues. This is different than #4 that you just like being with them. You will never see 100% eye-to-eye with your co-founder and tough decisions will need to be made. Is this person someone you can have an intense discussion with, disagree with and yet you two can still work together to get to a solution that you both support?
Excellent advice, thanks.
The title of this article doesn't make sense... it sounds like you're looking for someone who will just barely get by. That's what minimally viable means.
That's a great checklist. Even then, the question is, where is the most likely place to find a co-founder. Too many people do not meet the criteria above. ;-)
Perfect advice in every way. It is, however, like looking for the holy grail. Unfortunately, I have yet to meet this perfect person.
This could be a great check-list for any type of small team that you are putting together.
In many respects, a founding team is like a marriage and you have to treat it that seriously.
Brilliant and works the other way as a set of criteria for a co-founder looking for people they can work with and support effectively. A
I would add that that the co-founder have similar exit timeline and dollar amount. i.e. if one person wants to flip for $1M as fast as possible and another wants to build a large company with a $25M valuation this could cause problems.
If you are in the DC or Philly area we are hosting free Co-Founder matching events.
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Great list! I would add "compatible pace" to this list. You touched on moving fast, but if one person wants to move fast and the other is more methodical, it creates constant tension. I was just advising a founder on this very subject who had picked a co-founder that just wasn't up to running at her speed.
Excellent advice. Every start-up entrepreneur should read this article. It is no nonsense and to the point. It's not enough to start a business with "your best friend", they have to DO something, take consistent action, share the vision and be able to move the company forward in positive ways.
One other aspect - I think the founders have to have similar "risk tolerance" and there needs to be clear decision-making rules agreed upon, especially when partners disagree.
Another basic area, besides making and selling the product/service, someone needs to mind the bottom line and make sure the company is capitalized correctly.
Great points, I agree with every point you raised...one in particular, is brilliant...the point about being committed to the company, not just the idea. It is often necessary to change your product or even business model in mid-flight and you someone that gets this. A few things I'd add--Find a co-founder that has strengths in your area(s) of weakness. If you are a mad scientist technologist, find a seasoned business executive to provide the adult leadership. Also, if possible, a co-founder that has a great personal network, but somewhat different from yours (this is desirable, not required). When your looking for funding, clients...you'll need all the friends you can get.
thanks for laying out the co-founder proposition, you've hit the most salient points Darmesh. I would add to this one of the greatest elements that a "partner" can bring to the table, a balance of those things which are not your own strengths. Find someone who does what you do not like to do and let them help you get it done. This can result in brainstorming to make an idea or a product or even the direction of the company better then you ever envisioned by simply rounding out what you might have thought was already perfect. A good co-founder/partner will add to your collective whole (not detract), they make you better without changing the balance of power within. While I consider loyalty one of my guiding principals in partnering, it cannot be the sole reason for joining forces. Partnering is a lot like a marriage and you will be tested in ways you never thought possible. I'm an extrovert, I love the creative process and really enjoy working with and around people. I need a partner in my work-life however finding the right one is a difficult and time consuming task; prepare yourself (with the information above) so you will know them when you meet them! Much appreciated info. Darmesh.
You really should change the headline. As noted by "Andy," the implication is sarcastic, such as "how to hire a fool who will crash your business." What you mean to say, I think, is "What are the minimum criteria for a viable co-founder."
Great post and great comments, thanks!
OMT -- perhaps an adder to your list. In my experience, you (and the business) will be much better off -- both in the sprint and the marathon -- if you figure out your needs and objectives first, find a partner (co-founder) who shares at least part of your vision, and you work together to build a business model, identify the technology opportunity, push the economic envelope, think about personalties, company names, etc. Do it together. Do it with intensity. Make sure you are clear and not "pulling your punches" just to be nice.
If you get this clarity up-front, then there is a very good chance that you will develop a real partnership that has lasting value. But the clarity and agreement will serve you well through raising capital, hiring staff, distributing equity, and solving customers' problems.
Yes, this is a sound contribution to start up thinking. Using basic values mapping tools like the Hermann Brain Dominance Inventory (mad title !) can play a part too.
Well said! This is the best summary of the skill sets required for startup leads I've ever read!
I wish I had seen it before starting our sales and marketing automation solutions company
company. Would have helped me identify my own weaknesses more quickly.
As for selecting a partner, given this great list of requirements, the challenge then becomes determine a potential partner's fit with the requirements.
Not all of these are easily identified.
How do you feel about using personality profile testing in this situation?
Excellent list. My question is: when your "bestfriend since the 5th grade" isn't an option, and you're left going to "find a co-founder" events, how do you test someone against these points? Gut, plus a long-term contract, plus references, plus...?
Would be great if she cooks too! :)
Man, any tips on where do you find these sons of gods?
Great list but bottom line is that most of us who have actually done things HATE HATE HATE having partners......and the main thing is simple...what do they bring that the partner and ONLY that specific partner can bring that YOU need.. Otherwise your list works best for choosing a wife. LOL
It really is a minimum for a successful co-founder relationship -- which is why successful co-founder relationships are so rare in the real world.
It doesn't really help to take an attribute that has a high correlation to the top 1% of any field and try to replicate success based on that attribute, because to use the pop-culture term popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, they are outliers.
Expecting a good co-founder relationship to be a pre-requisite of a good startup is as silly as expecting a successful comedian to be black or jewish.
Or to pick a more relevant analogy -- that a tech founder must have thick glasses and a dorky haircut. While there is a correlation that technologists are geeky, putting glasses and a sweater vest on a stock MBA and then giving him a bowl haircut won't make him the next Bill Gates any more than pairing him with someone he really gets along with will.
Working with friends is more enjoyable though, and working with people you hate is likely to lead to conflict.
But the truth is that if you wait for a good partner, you'll probably never get started because you'll never find the minimum viable candidate (who also happens to want to partner with you). And despite the myth, even famous partnerships aren't always all they're cracked up to be. As Gates & Allen or Jobs and Wozniak.
Kudos Darmesh to you for your insightful rock-ribbed schedule of core attributes you that you believe imperative to making a partnership work. I’m inclined to agree with all of them”.
The only, and I mean “only” concern I have with the points in your guidance is that, well, I, much like you and – the great majority of your other readers here – aren’t like everyone else, in fact we might as well be a different species from most everyone else, including, I in my experience, the “ideal co-founder”.
Now forgive me in advance if you and I are in complete agreement on this, I’ll stipulate to the potential for packet loss in this semantical transfer of ideas; and it might come down to this: when I read co-founder in your article, I thought /think “partner”. I’m curious, do they mean the same to you?
I ask this because I’ve consistently found that if we’re fortunate enough to “choose” the right type of co-founder (by all your definitions above), then it’s my experience that – much like the point you made with regard to “being committed to the company, not the idea” – the onus is upon us be committed, and not just to the idea of a partnership, but committed to the actual partnership with that co-founder.
In my humble view, that commitment recognizes in advance that we’re both human, neither perfect, and should I, for instance, trip-up fiercely in the devastating aftermath of a first love lost; or should you, for example, leave for two months to compete as a bachelor on Temptation Island…well, that’s when the other, in the absence of his partner, pulls as hard as they can, but does so with a smile on their face, because they know that it just as easily could have been him enduring or celebrating the many trials and tribulations of life, and they know that when their turn comes, you’ll be there to cover them totally, with no fear of absence or decay. That’s the only way I know how to both work and heal or celebrate properly.
Darmesh, I’ve never had an “equal” relationship in my life at any given point in time, nor have I ever successfully predicted which acquaintances or friendships would graduate to become of paramount importance to me; that is of course with one significant exception: the relationship my partner and I forged deliberately, and with three core provisos:
1. We do absolutely everything in business together until we sell our core holdings, and we split every dollar, every remaining share 50/50.
2. We agree on our core philosophy with respect to appreciating the value of others, as well as the potent impact generous equity options can have in leveraging the talent of those smarter and more experienced than us.
3. We issue two classes (or “series” if you’re a Sub S) of stock, 100 series-A Voting, and the other 10mm in series-B Common (non-voting) stock.
We agreed instantly and wholeheartedly on each, took our 50 shares of A, and never once needed to test our deliberate deployment of MAD (mutually assured destruction)..hell, we never even had a fight in 12 years of an intense bootstrapped startup, on through to a sale that took in the high $10’s of millions.
I count myself to be among the most fortunate men in the world where this matter is concerned; that’s not to say however that we weren’t seriously tested and strained…we were brutalized; but in every scenario we always had each other, and I wouldn’t think of having it any other way.
These are great tips. I would add that finding a partner is business is like finding one in marriage. It is very difficult to do, but once it happens things just fall into place.
It's a great piece of advise, but I would disagree with first part of African proverb. It's no longer true that one would go quick alone. Alone is hard, exhausting, and frustrating for the fact that you are not going as quick as you want to, because you cannot do all by yourself.
This is a great beginning for start ups and professionals alike.
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Lynnfield, Massachusetts 01940
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Consider the skillsets that will be needed to grow your organization and choose a partner with strengths you may not have.
Reminds me of an old saying:
I'd rather be in a bad deal with good people, than a good deal with bad people.
Great Article Dharmesh,
I would like to just add some other very important traits in a co-founder.
He/ she must be a self starter who is able to shed the ' employee mindset' when they join a startup.
One who supplements your skill set.
One who has the ability to follow and lead in equal measure.
Most importantly one who is willing to develop additional skill sets along the way. At one time I had an HR professional as my co-founder and he in addition to his HR responsibilities also led a Sales vertical and did a brilliant job.
A co-founder over time should become your ' good friend'.
One should chose them as carefully as you a life partner.
Excellent blog. I have learnt a hard way in my previous start-up's experience
I would say knowing negatives of the partner upfront and having the patience to convert negatives of the partner into growth of business is what is needed.
Need to find co-founder who can compliment on every action you take.
You nailed it !
Best thing is just don't look for the co-founder at all. If you manage to find someone.
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Thanks for the great insight. However, I'm still not convinced that getting co-founder is good and all. It might work for some people, but I just don't feel right about it.
Excellent article! I have bookmarked this page so I can read it each time I get tempted to find a co-founder.
Great points Dharmesh. I would agree with all of them. I would also add:
1. Know specifically what they can bring to the table: skills, contacts, $ etc. It should be something that is critically to the forward movement of the business and which complements your own resources.
2. Someone that you have had conflict with and resolved it - several times preferably. If you know going into a partnership that you can work through conflict without damaging your relationship, that builds confidence and trust.
Great article and so true. I have found that trust and work ethic are two huge themes in co-founder relationships, both of which you highlight here.
I have had outstandingly positive experiences and somewhat negative experiences with co-founders but every case is a learning experience. Personally I always prefer to work as a team and so will probably have a co-founder in every enterprise. Your tips here as well as in your article on questions to ask co-founders are spot on and will be used.
Thanks for the insight.
Excellent points. Number 1, "You trust them and they deserve to be trusted" cannot be over emphasized. I'm sure many people do not realize that this includes calling you on something when you are wrong. We all need someone to hold us accountable. Integrity in something that needs to be there for everyone working at a company.
Wow, you guidance really resonated with me, both as a founder and a co-founder.
As a founder, I allowed principle and critical staff positions,e.g., Vice President of Engineering, to be part-time. That didn't work at all.
As a co-founder, I undertook the job working part-time and that didn't work at all either.
I have one more thing to add to your list. As a co-founder, I became disenchanted with the company because the founder made critical decisions without talking to me before he announced those decisions to other employees and investors. To give you some idea of the magnitude of those decisions, they included fundamentally changing the product and even the name of the company.
When he continued to do this after a private discussion between us, I left and dissasociated myself from the company.
"They are not working under the delusion that there will be work-life-balance in the startup."
Quote of the day!!
Great article and advice as usual!
Does anyone have any advice on where to find potential co-founders that are in the same or a similar industry? I have no idea where to even start.
I would add that you need to be careful of selecting a person primarily based on what you know if them only as a friend. If you've never worked with them, don't assume you know their work ethic. I got burned on this. The statement that the co-founder must do, not just think a lot of stuff is the point I have been trying to make. I think you need to assess whether your potential co-founder has an entrepreneurial aptitude and risk tolerance. Discuss specifically what each of you will contribute to the relationship in the case of "doing" things. I agree that the part-time co-founder doesn't work; however, if the are working, they can be expected to offset their work contributions with monetary ones.
1) Having co-founder(s) IS like a marriage, however, sleep in separate houses. To save money on office space, I lived with a co-founder and we operated out of our SF apartment. I would have rather worked in a garage than been around him 24-7.
On the other hand, I shared an apartment with a possible partner for 3 weeks on a international business trip and being around him 24-7 for a short period of time made me realize that it wouldn't work.
2) Co-sign all bank accounts
3) Read this book for tips on managing relationships with co-founders (or just about anyone): Crucial Conversations <http://www.vitalsmarts.com/crucialconversations_book.aspx>
Yes, making a decision to have a Co-founder, selecting and staying in the Entrepreneurial game can be a huge challenge. This article provides a realistic checklist to choose a minimally viable co-founder. Thanks for sharing.
I totally agree with your list! It's like you described A to Z my co-founder, loved your post! Thanks!
Truly excellent article that captures the key points of finding a good co-founder. Great title as well. Thank you so much! I have shared with all the entrepreneurs I know.
This is an excellent 7-key list of the traits expected from a perfect co-founder, but one should note that a real person that perfectly meets all 7 criteria does not exist.
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agree. so the road can be long till you find the right person.
They are passionate about the success of the business.
They focus on the results.
They are better at making decisions and delegating
They are best at hiring and hire only the smartest
They are customer oriented
Very nice statistics! It’s interesting to see where this will all take us in a few more years.
Very good post. I agree with all of these items. I have had the same co-founder on several ventures and based on our relationship i would like to add one item.
8. They bring a different skill set to the table than you do. Having someone as a partner that has a different mental model and different skills to you will be invaluable. Although we generally gravitate towards people that think similar to us if we look for co-founders that think differently or have a different view on things this will help to avoid the pitfalls of group think. Having co-founders that bring different skills to the table, will help spread out the diversified work of a Start-Up.
your point wise description is very good skill. Keep Updating
It is nice blog and very useful
What do you think about using your spouse or partner as a co-founder? I work with a lot of new start-ups
who are run by a husband and wife. There are some tax advantages to this in certain states, but imagine having to deal with dividing up your stuff AND your company in the divorce!
Great post and even good to review before getting married. I've had an AWFUL co-founder experience and decided I would never have a co-founder unless we were eating from the same table every night.
Very good article . You are absolutely correct.
Nice Site..good information..
its great and the concept of 'this is the minimum' is solid, but the title implies that you can accept someone who has all these qualities - while you can (and should) put out a minimally viable product you should never accept a minimally viable co-founder.
and would do I find such co-founders?