A startup is a mix of team, product and market. It all starts with the team – the base on everything else is built. In this case – how do we choose the right co-founders for our startup? Are they friends, family, colleagues or complete strangers?

If you’re here, you definitely thought about it and maybe planned to start a business. Maybe you have found the problem you want to solve and are looking for a partner in crime. With or without the idea, being a sole founder can be overwhelming considering you should:

  • Identify a strong problem to solve, 
  • Figure out who is going to pay for the product, 
  • Research if people are willing to pay (family and close friends excluded),
  • Build and test a prototype,
  • Create a brand and do some marketing for your product,
  • Maybe create a legal entity ( not on the first day!! ),
  • Find investment opportunities,
  • Cheer yourself up when times are tough,
  • Networking, gather customer feedback … 

… and the list goes on and on.

Both you and your future business can benefit from having a co-founder with complementary skills, passion and drive, so you can share both the hard work that lies ahead, as well as to celebrate success together.

What is the right profile for a co-founder?

First, you should consider making a minimal profile for the person that you will join your future business. Do you need a person with a specific background? What about their motivation to be part of a startup? You might analyze both their hard and soft skills and, of course, see how passionate they are about the project.

Second, you must be aware of your own qualities (and flaws!) and clearly state what your expectations are, which can be categorized in 3 specific categories. 

  • Skillset. Look for complementary skills. For example, if you have a technical background, you should be looking for someone on the business side and vice versa. Having a team of 2-3 co-founders can be helpful in the first place. Remember the list above. 
  • Experience. Potential is good, but might not be enough. Your team is small and doesn’t have the time to ramp up or create space for founders to learn all the necessary skills for creating a sustainable business.
  • Attitude & Values. To build the business and be on the same line, your future co-founder must have the same values, as well as the right attitude and motivation. Even more, a co-founder needs to be nimble, accept feedback, keep his or her ego in check,  keep calm during difficult situations, have strong social skills and be a strong team player.

Where and how to find a co-founder?

Now you have a draft profile for your awesome co-founder, but where do you find this person? You need to go out there and find him / her. Even if is someone close to you, you must ask. If I’m looking at our local entrepreneurial ecosystem, most entrepreneurs have paired up with an ex-coworker or close friend. This solution is the easiest one. You already have a bond with these people, know what they are capable of and their skills, if they are team players or not. You could work this out!

If you’ve already thought about people around you and this approach is not a viable one, then the hard work begins. You must reach out to your network: acquaintances, friends of friends or colleagues and your professional network. Don’t forget about LinkedIn, technology is here to help. This solution is much more expensive in terms of time and energy.

Not so lucky? Tried all the above and still nothing? Your perfect fit is somewhere out there! You’re not looking for a spouse, but consider how the huge amount of time you’re going to spend with this person. It’s very important to get it right. You need to be creative, step out of your comfort zone and brainstorm about all the possibilities you have. Start a to-do list: post about your idea on social media or groups that have a topic set to entrepreneurial spectrum, follow people and ask for feedback about your idea, expand your connections and network at every event involving people with entrepreneurship on their agenda. Some communities organize events to connect potential co-founders. For example, Techhub Bucharest has the initiative Startup Matchmaking.

Family, friends, colleagues or complete strangers?

There is no success recipe. Some people work fantastically well with childhood friends, others with an ex-desk mate from college and so on. Some entrepreneurs find the right co-founder in their life partner or family members. It all depends on your nature and how you establish this professional relationship. If you two trust each others judgement, you will work effectively. It’s mandatory to establish leadership for each direction and set limits and expectations. If this happens, your professional relationship with your co-founder is safe.

If you are in college and want to start the first journey as an entrepreneur, you can also think of colleagues you’ve worked before on a team project. They could be the right fit for you. You might have a history and know each other well, and you’ll know how much you can rely on them.

In the case of partnering up with a stranger, you’ll need to spend some time getting to know him or her before “popping the question”. Who is this person, what skills does she or he have? What about likes, dislikes or motivation? Of course, you might already have a basic idea about your future co-founder, but you have more to discover.

Found the right fit? What are the next steps?

Let’s say you found “the chosen one”. Decide if their values and motivations for starting the company are aligned with yours, have a trial period of working together and see how you are managing difficult situations together.

If you have the right match, take into consideration that you need to have the talk about what happens if the business fails or if one of you decides to leave the team. Plan it accordingly! This is a tough discussion but is necessary to have in mind all the possibilities. 

  • Discuss your roles, establish the leadership for each responsibility and decide how you are going to split the shares of the future company. 
  • And don’t disregard the importance of having a formalized shareholders agreement. It might seem like an insignificant detail now, but it’s impossible to anticipate the hurdles you’ll face along the way. 
  • As a bonus, it will also help show future investors that you take the future of your company and your co-founder roles very seriously.

Next steps?

Alexandra Anghel, CTO of MorphL and PD StepFWD, captured a nice perspective to summarize the relationship with your co-founder:

In some particular ways, a co-founder has to be more trust-worthy and helpful than a friend. It is not enough to be friends, you need a common set of values, the same view on the world and the desire to succeed. I do not expect my friends to share my passion for my startup, but I really want (and need) to see that in my co-founders.

Found your match? StepFWD can help you grow your business to the next level. Apply until 29 September!