Finding a Co-Founder

Matching with a co-founder is a complex combination of effort, experience, personality, and skill set — it's a ton of work, but is it even worth it? Keep reading to find out if finding a co-founder is right for your startup.

August 19th, 2022   |    By: Sarah Humphreys

Running a startup is a ton of work as a solo Founder, so much so that many Founders find themselves at a loss trying to get everything done. For those that are non-technical, this proves to be a challenge, as coding is essential in this day and age, so bringing on a technical co-founder is a must. This is also true for technical Founders missing the mark on the creative front, so it's no surprise that one of the most searched terms on the internet is "finding a cofounder."

It seems like it should be easy — find a co-founder (or more) that aligns with your startup idea, mission, and has the complementary skills to do all the things you don't know how to — but it's not that simple. Finding the right co-founder is a complex combination of effort, experience, personality, and skill set that most prospective co-founders won't necessarily fall into.

Founders, we hear your cries, and have compiled an article full of information on finding a great co-founder that is right for you and your startup's needs.

What is a Co-Founder?

Chances are, if you're reading this, you may already know what a co-founder is, but for those that are new to the startup world, allow us to share some insight before diving into the more pressing details.

A co-founder is another member of the founding team and essentially a business partner, whether they were there when the company started, or brought in afterward to take the company to the next level. They're typically other entrepreneurs and have experience running a business.

Most of the time, each co-founder will split equity in the company, as each person provides the necessary skills to support the company in growth, and ownership is one of the best (and possibly only) ways to offer an incentive to work hard for the startup, especially in the early stages.

Founder vs Co-Founder

The "Founder" role is dedicated to the individual that started the company in the first place, and in many cases, multiple Founders can be there at the business's inception, each of these startup Founders would be a part of the co-founding team and considered co-founders (or business partners) of the company.

In the case that a solo Founder started the company and came to the realization that the work was out of their scope of abilities, bringing on someone else to fill in the role needing filled would be the co-founder. Roles to be filled in the startup could be anything from finance or marketing, to coding or even sales.

Other Startup Roles

While the Founder of the company often tends to take on a leadership role, that isn't always how it works out. Every organization should find the right person for each position in the company if they are ever to become a successful startup. There are many shoes to fill, per se, to have the right team in place — and here are a few of the most common roles that co-founders take on.

CEO

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a startup is the head of the organization. They are the visionary, and final say in most (if not all) business decisions, from hiring to processes, to pivots, the CEO manages it all.

Many times, the Founder of the company takes the CEO seat, but just because a Founder started the company, doesn't mean they are always best suited to run the company. This is where a co-founder or outside hire with specific skills geared to this leadership role would come in and do the job.

CMO

The Chief Marketing Officer is at the top of the company's marketing efforts. They are responsible for the organization's marketing efforts (ex: advertising and selling its products or services), managing the expanding marketing team as the startup grows, and maintaining and evolving skillset to fit the job description.

CFO

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is the title for the individual in charge of managing the company's financial operations. As with all other c-level positions, the CFO reports directly to the CEO and has significant input into the company's investments, money management, and long-term strategies.

Finding a co founder is similar to the process to find investors, success depends on lots of diligence, attending networking events etc.

Benefits of Having a Co-Founder

Nothing helps a startup flourish better than combining like-minded people with similar values and different skills. Having a co-founding team to work with has many benefits, and these are just a few:

Lessening the Workload

The "perfect cofounder" will have the company's best interests in mind while also carrying their weight in the workload. When the original Founder doesn't have to do all the work for the startup, that has the potential to increase the likelihood of success, and at the very least, lessen the day-to-day stresses that typically drain the Founder by balancing all the different areas of work.

Technical vs Non-technical

It's not a solid line, but many Founders could be categorized in one of two groups: technical or non-technical. A technical co-founder is always a "hot commodity" for startups in a growing world of technology. Most anyone can write out a business plan, but building an app, website, or any other function the startup needs has to be done by someone with these specific skills.

Founder Loneliness

Founder isolation is real and anyone that has experienced this on their startup journey knows it shouldn't be taken lightly. It's not something a friend or family member can fix being that they don'e fully understand what Founders go through.

Even bringing on a single person to the startup makes the burden of loneliness less intense. When you're able to bounce ideas (or woes) off of someone else that gets what you're going through, it creates an environment of comradery and aides in dissolving Founder loneliness.

Fresh Perspective (differences are a good thing)

We know we mentioned previously that co-founders should be aligned with the idea and vision of the company, but that doesn't necessarily mean they should always say 'yes' and never offer alternative insight. That would be like having one Founder with two heads and defeats the purpose of a co-founding team.

An ideal co-founder would also have a fresh perspective and share ideas to update best practices, systems, and other areas for the betterment of the startup. Sometimes seeing things from an alternative vantage point unveils details that weren't so obvious before, co-founder differences can be an improvement overall.

If the Startup Fails, it’s not all on you

In the dreaded scenario you have to tell your silicon valley venture capitalists that everything tanked, you're not alone. It wasn't only your fault, it was a team effort, which make the burden an easier pill to swallow.T

The initial investment of time to find a co founder pays off by avoiding conflict later.

The Downside of Having a Co-Founder

We've covered the plus side, but as everything that needs balance, allow us to shine a light on the dark side of matching with a co-founder that is a bad fit.

Giving up That Sweet Equity

Equity is the life and blood of a startup and the amount of equity a startup Founder retains is basically directly related to the amount of control they maintain over the startup. Co-founders will expect to have a share of the company's equity in exchange for their effort and expertise.

In early-stage startups, this is especially true since there typically isn't a ton (if at all) of money coming in, so paying with equity in hope for a future payout is the next best thing. The less equity you have, the less control you have, and that means the decision making and say over other business processes will get diluted as well.

Ego & Leadership Don’t Mix

If you're lucky and match with the right co-founder with similar interests that you create a relationship with, you hit the jackpot. Quite often in leadership positions (c-level titles mentioned above), there tends to be some degree of ego involved.

Finding a co-founder that doesn't have a control complex or tendency to power grab can be a challenge, but is not impossible. It's important to thoroughly vet every prospective co-founder you interview before jumping into a business partner commitment.

They Don’t Pull Their Weight

This specific detail is a substantial reason why finding the right co-founder is a challenge for many. Giving up equity is hard enough, when it's giving to someone that doesn't do the job they agreed to do in the first place, that's just adding insult to injury — and breaking up with a co-founder is another challenge altogether.

Do You Need a Co-Founder?

Founders often think they need to find a co-founder to fill the void they are experiencing in their startup, or in their own loneliness, but a case could be made that even if you think you need to find co-founders, you might be fine contracting the work, or hiring an employee to do the job instead. There are a few options to consider.

Your Workload is Piling Up

If you've been running a startup for a substantial amount of time and not making any progress, looking into matching with a co-founder might be the next step.

Whether you're embarking on a funding round and don't want to go at it alone, or your business is ready to expand as an app and you need a technical co-founder, all of this leads to lightening the workload and a co-founder could help with just that.

Many Founders in the startup community make note that although partnership sounds appealing, sometimes hiring out is a better option.

Perhaps a Virtual Assistant is What You Need Right Now

Without offering up any equity or making a commitment to a full-time hire, perhaps a virtual assistant would be the right fit for your startup. Virtual assistants can work as contractors, so there aren't any long-term negotiations needed, however, that doesn't mean that their quality of work will be lacking.

Virtual assistants are a core part of the team and can be just as invested as any other employee. They can take on a wide variety of tasks, from research and data entry, to travel booking and social media posting. This is definitely a reliable option for Founders trying to find a co-founder to take on the workload, without getting themselves into a potential conflict with a bad fit.

You Don’t Have the Skillset to Develop

You could always find a developer to hire, but with turnover, negotiations, and continuous updates to consider, sometimes bringing on a technical co-founder is the "most affordable" option in the long run. Yes, you will be splitting ownership with someone else, but all the technical information created will be protected through the founder's agreement.

This is also a beneficial option regarding your startup's finances. If you can match with a co-founder that is excited about your business idea, chances are they would take a position and work for equity alone (but, finding the right fit in a potential co-founder is still one of the biggest challenges in the startup world).

How to Find a Co-Founder 

Finding co-founders isn't easy, as you may have put together, but we have some thoughtful insight for you to narrow the guessing game, so you can have an intentional approach to matching with a co-founder moving forward.

What do You Need? Write it down.

It's easy to forget important details especially when you're stressed. Writing down the job description, responsibilities, and other expectations such as preferences for interests, skills, location, etc. that you need in a co-founder will help keep you on track during your search. It's even more helpful to write down all of your skills and expertise so you can further define all the areas that are "lacking" and could use more co-founder support.

Make sure to note the things you are and are not willing to compromise. All other entrepreneurs work differently and have a wide variety of personalities, so if a specific type of humor or personality trait is something you know you won't be able to work with, write it down.

Consider Friends & Family 

Though this could potentially be a conflict of interest and possibly cause conflict, sometimes the best personality fit can come from someone you already know. With the personal relationship already established, figuring out if you two can work together (as well as if they can actually do the work you need to be done) is the main focus here.

There's a good chance you are already aware of their strengths and weaknesses, but don't underestimate how congenial it can be to start a business with someone you’re close to. Just be cautious not to let loyalties shroud the scope of a friend’s aptitude and qualities. Co-founding can (and most likely WILL) complicate your relationship.

Reach Out to Your Network

Don't just leave your search to match with a co-founder via search engine results. Use every asset you have online and offline. Get the word out utilizing your existing network of friends, family, colleagues, and social media. Linkedin groups have been growing in popularity, if you haven't already, find groups in your company's industry and ask questions. Founders love helping Founders, and this platform is the world's largest network for business connections.

Start networking with other entrepreneurs that have complementary skills — if they have their own business, there's a likelihood they will have contacts with similar skills they can introduce you to. Never underestimate the power of networking events (or startup events) either. Get yourself out there, shake hands, and be patient. The best co founder is worth waiting for! (we know it sounds a lot like dating — because it kind of is...)

Be Prepared for First Interactions

Typically, conversations from subtly interested parties will bring their questions up in an informal setting. They're trying to feel out you as a partner and the business at the same time. It's the first time they've heard your idea, but you should be prepared for this moment.

Consider this your "elevator pitch" for co-founder matching. Prep yourself by knowing what you want to ask in advance and what you want to share about yourself — plus, any doubts you have that you’d like to further define in conversation. The more efficient you can be, the better.

Work on Something Together First

Collaborating on something before bringing someone on as a partner is not just a good idea, it's a great one. Entrepreneurs all work differently and if there is any sign of controversy between the two of you in the "test run" there's no need to continue with a partnership. Startups need a balanced team all working toward the same goal — success. If the founding team is lacking in any way, the startup lacks in every way.

Define the Roles and Expectations

If all goes well and your trial project is a working success, the next step would be defining the roles and responsibilities expected of every member in the founding agreement. As a partner, a potential co-founder will have the betterment of the startup in mind and not just their personal gain. This should be a fair, beneficial agreement for all the entrepreneurs joining the team, and the general idea is to design and enforce the right boundaries and responsibilities when it comes to who does what.

Some accelerators and incubators like the founder institute or startup school offer opportunities for finding a co founder, but so do informal networks lie indie hackers

Matching with a Co-Founder

After all the effort put in with making lists and networking, you're finally ready to take the leap. All members should have different skills, backgrounds, and roles, but should share the same vision and similar values.

When it comes to matching with a co-founder, start with your personal circles before moving to other networking platforms online and offline.

Don't forget, you won’t be selecting a co-founder on the basis of one discussion. This is going to take time — and a test run of working on something together first — to know whether you’re a good match.


About the Author

Sarah Humphreys

A long time ago, someone told Sarah that she was going to do great things. And even though that person was her own reflection looking in the mirror, those words have carried her through the thick of it all. You may find her singing in her car, cleaning things as stress relief, or using humor in uncomfortable situations. Sarah is a professional photographer, expert-level copy editor, copywriter, digital creator, and a nice lady to boot!

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