Co-Founder Shopping? Here's What You Should Look For

Photo by David Marcu

Photo by David Marcu

I’ve founded three businesses now, two of which were built in partnership with a co-founder. During those years building businesses with my co-founders, I became extremely aware of how our interactions helped the business and when it absolutely deteriorated it.

For my current business, I decided to fly solo for the first time in my entrepreneurial career — a big step that was nothing short of an all-encompassing, fear-confronting decision for me. It’s difficult to go on a multi-year journey alone especially on something as complicated as building a business. However, that’s also why I decided that a solo venture was an important journey for me to take. 

I noticed that during my co-founder partnerships, that I let my self-doubt and reliance on others run wild, dutifully attributing my success to others rather than respecting and honoring my own skills and strengths. My solo venture has thus far been a journey in discovering and stepping into self-sufficiency and understanding what I’m truly capable (and not capable) of. 

You may have heard everything under the sun as far as why you should or should not have a co-founder partner with you on your business. If after entertaining all of these perspectives, you still wholeheartedly want to find a co-founder, here are the major characteristics that I recommend that you look for when searching for one.


Aligned Work Ethic

This is a key characteristic that makes or breaks a lot of co-founder relationships. Different work styles amongst co-founders can lead to contempt that one person is doing all of the work all the time when in actuality it’s just a difference in work styles, speed, and urgency when it comes to completing work.

Some people like doing work in advance to hit deadlines before they’re due and others thrive with last-minute cramming or generally hand in things late. In this particular scenario, you can see how a work-in-advance type and a last-minute/chronically late crammer would butt heads after months of adhering to different internal expectations. It’s hard to change someone’s internal clock and when you’re a startup founder, you care a lot more about these types of finer details. Violation of these finer details leads to arguments, passive aggressiveness, and/or never-ending contention if it’s not addressed via an open conversation about expectations.

Before taking on a co-founder, make sure that s/he either has a similar work style or complementary work ethic that would be supportive rather than destructive to your current work style. If your work styles are blatantly different, have a conversation about how realistic it would be to adjust one’s work style so that it’s positive for the company and its success.


Elbow Grease

Make sure that your co-founder has concrete skills that will manifest into new business opportunities, product development work, or another crucial department. Bringing on a co-founder just because they’re passionate about the project is not enough, and they have to be capable of putting some elbow grease into the business itself. Even if the passionate skill-short co-founder wants to help ease the company’s workload, they will not be able to. Passion does not convert in this situation. 

If there’s a severe distribution of workload towards one person because of their skillsets, this is a scenario that can spark contention between co-founders. In this situation, that person will always be left carrying the majority of the startup’s work weight, and at the end of the day, this is not a good long-term strategy for co-founder harmony. 

Your co-founder should check out as far as the workload needs of the company and his/her skills — in the ideal situation, there should be a large overlap between these two.


Aligned Level Of Passion

Do you both have the same level of interest in the business? Are you both incredibly driven and enthusiastic about building the business, or will someone always be lagging behind because they don’t care as much? At the core of every to-do task, deadline, and persistent go-getting is an internal passion for the business that fuels it all.

Whatever the internal drive is for everyone, make sure that you all have the same level of passion and ambition to get things done. Gauge if the co-founders you interview have a strong and convincing driver as to why they want to be a part of your project — your co-founder’s motivation and internal passion will be an important force when cash flow is tight and times are rough for the business.


Open-Minded

Is your co-founder open-minded and collaborative when it comes to discussing and integrating new ideas, even when it’s difficult? Are they open to change? As a startup, there will be plenty of opportunities where you’ll have to experiment with new ideas, pivot, or burn everything to the ground and start all over again.

Having a partner in crime who’s onboard and supportive during these times of transition is incredibly important, and it’s better for the business. Building a startup requires a lot of bold moves and untraditional decisionmaking — receiving pushback from your own team when you need to take these risks is a waste of energy and time, both things that you have a limited supply of.

Find a co-founder that lifts you up to your maximum potential rather than pulls you down due to their personal aversion to risk and change.

I caveat all of the above with — it’s great to have a co-founder who challenges you. However, the key is to strike a balance between a co-founder who challenges you and a co-founder that you’re always butting heads with. 

There’s also the in-between within these two scenarios where you see all of the ways that your co-founder isn’t a fit for you, but you don’t fess up to how it’s affecting you and you let it keep going — you take on all the extra work and repress all of the contempt you have for the person. You ride it out. Don’t do this — too many co-founders do this, and it’s never worth the amount of stress, gossiping, and mental space it occupies. 


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Sophia Sunwoo