In my opinion, to find a reliable and responsible co-founder is harder than to get married. But at the same time, a successful startup journey is always teamwork process and you need to build up your team.
So when you start looking for a co-founder, keep in mind a few basic rules:
1. WHY. First of all, try to analyse why you need a co-founder.
Most of the time, it’s reasonable to look for someone who has the competencies or skills in the area where you lack expertise required for your startup. It doesn’t matter if you are planning to find one or more co-founders. Keep doing the jigsaw puzzle until it’s complete.
Beware: your team mates shouldn’t duplicate your skills. You just need someone who can do some things better than you. So that you will be able to share your responsibilities and focus on your strong skills. At the same time, try to keep your co-founder team as small as possible. Ideally it should be no more than two or three people in total. More co-founders of your startup may cause difficulties with common agreements and decision-making process.
2. WHERE. Where can you find your co-founder?
It depends on what kind of person you are looking for. Your business idea and related area will give you a clue which networking events to attend to meet potential co-workers. Some of such events are called something like ‘Co-founder speed dating’. These are places where people come to meet and network with potential business partners. Another way is to ask for recommendation across your professional community, it will reduce the risk of meeting an unreliable and untrustworthy person.
3. HOW. It’s an important question I’ve been asked many times: How can you understand that this one is the right person to be your co-founder?
Let’s imagine that you have found a potential candidate to join your business journey. Well, the first quick test is to ask yourself. Can you see how you work with this person face to face every day for the next 3-5-10 years? If you can imagine that, it’s fine. If you like the person, you have common vision and you are not getting tired/bored/annoyed with them while you are staying together for at least a couple of hours a day - that’s a good sign.
Then create a roadmap for your possible collaboration. Share responsibilities and define who will do what. Before making any agreement to take person onboard of your business - have some test periods of working together. You can start with one week. Select any simple task you can do together as a team and see how it works. If you haven’t fought till the end of week it’s another good sign. Then try to plan one month of common work together and see how it works again. If all has been fine - you can create a plan for the next 3-6 months which can bring you to your final decision of working together on a permanent basis. If you have managed to work together over 6 months - you will significantly reduce the risk of failure.
4. WHAT. What should we do and how?
Basically, there are three main directions which are required to focus on in a startup across the founders team:
1. Product/Service Development and Support.
2. Business Development and Finance Management.
3. Sales, Marketing and PR.
Depending on how many co-founders you’ve got, try to share these directions proportionally. However, it’s not exactly the case that you have to do all the things using your own resources. Some of the tasks can be easily outsourced to a third-party supplier and freelancers. Just make sure, you are able to manage 70-80% of tasks with the team.
Then make KPIs for each of the main three directions of your activities and check them at your timeline milestones. If everything works smoothly - then you can pass on to the stage of making an agreement.
If you came to the point where you are happy how your collaboration has worked out so far, try to discuss your work terms asap. Even if your startup hasn’t made any profit yet or there hasn’t been any investment, it’s really important to clarify each team member’s expectations in terms of shares, salaries, bonuses, etc. It’s especially true when your co-founder is you best friend whom you have known for many years. Business is business, so you should make a proper paper agreement. It will simplify your further talks with partners and investors as they want to see you as a reliable team with clearly negotiated conditions.
Moreover, be very accurate about your common expenses or any loans - it’s necessary to clearly discuss everybody’s responsibilities. Also discuss your exit strategy in case of various occasions. It can be changed after your first fundraising round. At the same time, agreement document shouldn’t be too complex, try to make your terms as simple and clear as possible.
6. Plan B
You need to have clear vision on what you are going to do if your collaboration with a co-founder doesn’t work well. For example, in three months you realise that you are not achieving targets you have agreed upon before. Analyse the situation and find reasons for it. Sometimes it can be the issue with some of your team member performance. But sometimes there is something else. Try to see why it was the issue - maybe targets you had planned were too optimistic and over-estimated.
Sometimes you can realise, you just simply can’t work together even if all of you have put lots of energy and passion in the work. Which is absolutely normal. The earlier you understand you have to stop your collaboration, the better.
7. Team management
Building a successful team is not only about having the right skills and experience. It’s very important to make sure you have friendly atmosphere across your team, you help and support each other. It’s critical to keep in mind that difficulties and challenges are just a typical part of each startup journey, so the main question is how you deal with it.
Please make sure that if something needs to be resolved, be polite and, instead of criticism, try to motivate your team to fix things or improve the performance.