I have learned so much about the startup life over the past couple years. I worked with a larger startup, a smaller one, and several that I can call my own. I learned how funding works, how marketing works, how sales happen (how sales don't happen), how to avoid technical mistakes and how to make great products.
Despite all of this, I believe the most important thing I have learned over this time has to do with co-founders.
Co-Founders are those people who share your vision - they work for little or no pay, they do the grunt work early on, they transform the vision into a real product. They do this in hopes of creating something great. Co-Founders are immensely important in shaping the future of your company. Given this, you should take time in considering who should become a co-founder.
What to consider
To become better at this process I have compiled this short list of things to consider. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I think it covers most of your bases.
1. How do you work with this person?
Find out how your potential co-founder works. Things I have found of particular important include:
- How many hours will this person put in to the business?
- How fast do they work?
- How detail oriented are they?
Bringing somebody on board who works slower than you, less time than you, and sloppier than you will make you (and probably the rest of the team) pretty unhappy. Make sure you see eye to eye with your potential co-founder, make sure you are both ready to put in similar amounts of effort and you have similar ideas about the quality of your work.
2. What do they bring to the table?
Ideally, you should bring on co-founders that fill some gap in skills at your company. Given this, make sure the potential co-founder has skills that are valuable to you and your team. Already have five backend devs? It probably isn't wise to bring on a co-founder who loves writing backend code.
However, bringing on a co-founder with overlapping skills isn't necessarily a bad thing if the person brings other things to the table, but just be mindful about how other co-founders or team members may feel if you bring somebody else into the fray that may do the same thing they are doing.
3. Do you like this person?
Arguably one of the most important traits you should be looking for is relatability. This is somebody you are going to be dealing with every day for the next few years so you should pick somebody you generally like.
Do not invite somebody to join your team as a co-founder if you can't stand them - regardless of how skillful they may be.
4. Are there any warning signs?
Generally, people who are up for coveted co-founder positions are people you know somehow. They are friends or co-workers, so you probably know a fair amount about them. You should use any and all of this information to your advantage:
- Have they done something like this before? How did it end?
- How do they interact with others? Are they well liked?
- What is their previous work like? Are they known for quality?
If the answers to these questions are not positive you may want to reconsider bringing this person on as a co-founder. I have found that behaviors from the past rarely disappear completely - if the person has done something undesirable in the past, it is likely that behavior will continue in the future. Make sure you are okay with this.
The team is more important than the idea
If you are like me, you have probably read tons of stories about startups, how they failed, how they succeeded and what could be done better. One common theme I have found is that the team is more important than the idea and execution is key. That being said, you should set yourself up for success by picking the best possible co-founders early. It is easier to be critical now than it is to deal with a bad match later on.
Have any other tips about selecting good co-founders? Please let me know, I'd love to hear your suggestions.