When it comes to choosing a life partner, my father’s one and only advice to me is,” Check out the basics. If basics are in place, everything else will fall into place on its own. Don’t focus too much on glam, bank balance and other material comforts. They are earned and transient in nature. Just focus on basics”.
When it comes to finding a cofounder, I feel it’s really no different. A founder spends on an average 10 hours a day with his (her) cofounder even more than what one would spend with one’s spouse. There’s just too much at stake; not only your company but your peace of mind and well-being too.
So, how should one go about finding that cofounder who makes your work life a pleasant journey and not a living hell?
In my view, I don’t think compatibility starts and ends at complimentary skill set match. If one is a great marketer and the other a great web-developer, it doesn’t signify a match made in heaven. The basics need to be right. And what are the basics here?
1. Level of urgency – Different motivations drive different people. Two people willing to work towards a common goal may not reflect the same level of urgency. Once, I was looking for a cofounder with gaming skill set. I spoke with a few people and no one showed the same level of urgency, their tone reflected a ‘laggard’ mindset. You cannot get into a cofounder relationship if the intensity doesn’t match, it’s a doorway to conflict.
2. Moral person – Believe it or not but when it comes to pairing up with a cofounder, you would do yourself a lot of good if you look for some degree of ethics and moral standards in a person. Cofounder relationship doesn’t work on supervision and constant monitoring. Neither can you keep a constant eye on your cofounder nor can he. The only thing that will keep both of you from cheating each other is your own ‘conscience’. So, in addition to skills, it might be worth finding someone with a ‘conscience’.
3. A bit un-greedy for money – While money symbolizes value, money acquired out of greed and for quick gains, symbolizes a temporary benefit. A greedy cofounder is more likely to jeopardize the startup and susceptible to decision making that is value destructive in nature.
4. Alignment of vision – This one is really crucial. It’s funny to see sometimes that even after few months of working together, some cofounders say different things about their startups and their vision. It’s a disaster; for cofounders, the product and other stakeholders. Find and work with someone who shares your vision. Only then can one work as a cohesive unit towards a common purpose. If you don’t ensure alignment, you are inviting conflicts at every step of the way.
5. Driven by reason & not ego – There are a lot of people who let little egos rule their decision making. They don’t allow reason to communicate with reason but they like their egos to do the talking. It’s a disaster again because when you have cofounder conflicts (there are bound to be; infact some degree of it should be there), you will have a tough time resolving those. A reasonable person will reason and likely take decisions in the interest of the company and not to prove his own point.
Having said that, of course you need complimentary skills too but I have touched upon complimentary skills as the last point because all of these other things are extremely important in keeping the boat afloat.
When people say complimentary skill set, they usually think of technical and non-technical skills. However, that’s not quite the only way of looking at it. In cases, where both founders are non-technical in nature, complimentary skill set should be in terms of their personalities. Both can’t be introverted and both can’t be extroverted. If one person likes doing the operational, back end stuff, the other should be excellent at connecting with the world outside the startup.
Note, most technical skills can be acquired. People who have a flair for learning and grasping things quickly, will learn the skills. If you are only offering someone to be your cofounder because he brings technical skills and you don’t know him (her) enough as a person, you might want to think again. Skilful people can be employed; one doesn’t need to engage a skilful person only in the capacity of a cofounder. (S)he can be an integral part of your team and still be able to add tremendous value.
So what else do you think should be added to the “basic” checklist for finding a co-founder? Do leave your comments below.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
NIDHI KAPOOR - Nidhi is the co-founder of FounderMates. She holds an MBA in Innovation & Entrepreneurship from Imperial College, London. Prior to starting FounderMates.com, she worked with 2 reputable startups in London. One of the startups was as young as a year old where she was the first hire while another was almost 5 years old. This has been an enriching experience for her in understanding the dynamics and needs of a startup across a broad spectrum.
Nidhi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org