Choosing the right co-founder is arguably the most important decision you’ll make as an entrepreneur. It’s also one of the most difficult and daunting: Having a good idea isn’t enough—you’re going to need the right team in place to execute it. And you want co-founders who have the same vision, complementary skill sets, and a mutual respect and admiration of each other. These are the people with whom you’re going to ride out the roller coaster of ups and downs of start-up life, which you’re bound to encounter along the way.
When I was first thinking about starting my company, I had a great idea—but didn’t have someone to execute it with me. So I set off on the search process. And now that I’ve gone through it (and have two great co-founders), here’s what I would share with anyone in the same boat.
1. Look to Your Friends, Family, and Colleagues
Starting a company with a close friend, family member, or colleague you’ve worked with in the past can certainly be an ideal scenario. If you’re already close with someone, it’s much easier to carve out roles and responsibilities, communicate in a candid and meaningful way, and ultimately understand what makes each other tick.
Jonathan Wegener and Benny Wong from Timehop, who I got to know well during our time at TechStars, are a great example of this. The two were randomly thrown together as roommates during their first year at Columbia, and they hit it off immediately. Their careers post-graduation took them in different professional directions, but they remained close friends and even continued collaborating on small side projects. Last year, they decided to officially team up as co-founders to start Timehop.
Lucky for them, they’re clearly a great match for one another. Their respective product and technical skills complemented each other perfectly, their communication is seamless, and they genuinely love working together. What more could you ask for?
If you have the network for it, reach out to your immediate circle to start exchanging ideas and sharing your vision for a potential business, and see if anyone in that group shares the same passion for it as you.
2. Tap Your Greater Network
Of course, not everyone has an old college friend that would be a great co-founder—I sure didn’t. So, about four and a half years ago, I sent out an email to my network of friends asking if they knew of anyone with deep technical or product experience to discuss an idea I had for a real estate start-up. I tried to describe what I was looking for in as much detail I could—it almost felt like I was writing up a personal ad.
And that’s how I met my first match—my future co-founder and Nestio’s head of product, Matt.
But that first email wasn’t the most important part of the process. Tapping into your own network can yield great co-founder candidates, but you really need to take the time to get to know the other person (or people) before diving in too deep together.
From that first meeting, Matt and I become fast friends, but we spent almost two years getting to know one another before we decided start a business. During that time, Mat also introduced me to Mike, a former colleague—and now our third co-founder and CTO.
At some point during our friendship, it became clear to me—these were my co-founders. By this time, we’d built a strong relationship, and we were fortunate to feel like we were good friends embarking on this journey together.
3. Hack it Yourself (For Now)
What if no one is jumping out at you right away? After all, I didn’t find my partners overnight, and the search can definitely take time. But don’t be tempted to choose someone who’s not the right fit just to get a body on board. In fact, consider another solution in the meantime.
Vin Vacanti, CEO and co-founder of Yipit, has blogged on this topic, and I’d highly recommend checking it out. Vin opens up about his own experience, and how he and his co-founder Jim Moran were in need of a third person with technical skills. Instead of holding off on building a product while they looked for the perfect candidate, they decided that Vin would be Yipit’s temporary technical co-founder—and Vin outlines all of the steps he took to get there.
This is a great idea for two main reasons: It allows you to start building something right away and get a product into the market, and it demonstrates to potential future co-founders that you’re capable of executing. Yes, learning a brand new skill set is a daunting task to say the least, but the prospect becomes a whole lot less scary when you realize it doesn’t have to be perfect. “The goal wasn’t for me to become Yipit’s CTO,” Vin says. “My goal was to build a product that got traction.”
A lot of people compare the co-founder selection process to dating, and it’s definitely true. And when you actually commit to starting a business together, it’s really more analogous to a marriage. Your co-founder is the person with whom you’ll be spending most of your time, and you should trust them implicitly. They’ll see you at your best and your absolute worst—and with any luck, you’ll be in it together for the long haul.
Good luck, and I hope you and your future co-founder(s) live happily ever after!
Photo courtesy of Jerry Bunkers.