90 Days To Find A Terrible Co-Founder

Photo by  Nathan Dumlao

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

If you’re a founder looking for a co-founder, you’ve probably been on the search for a co-founder because:

a) of your never-ending workload
b) you need a co-founder with a very specific skill you don’t have (coding, industry contacts, marketing, business development, etc.)
c) building your startup would feel a lot less lonely

Although bringing on a co-founder for your business feels like a relationship built upon strictly business, it is not.

You will cry, feel emotionally challenged, be the most vulnerable you’ve ever been, talk about money intimately, and get into fights you later have to apologize for if you truly work with your co-founder as an equal partner of your business.

Therefore, interviewing a co-founder about strictly business and then signing them on is doomed to provoke chaos — you hire someone with only 50% of a complete interview by asking those strictly business questions you needed to ask and 0 questions about their compatibility with you.

It’s like searching for your future wife or husband via a dating app and sealing the deal within 90 days.

Searching for a co-founder at a networking event, via introductions to strangers, or a job posting is like rushing to walk down the aisle without knowing that your partner is a secret hoarder or that they have about $200K in credit card debt.

A good chunk of your co-founder relationship will have a figuring-each-other-out phase, and if you don’t know each other well, many of your conversations will become a fighting ring to butt heads over trivial differences in opinions (our customers will like cardboard packaging vs. plastic packaging) and personality incompatibilities (type-A vs. no-fear-of-deadlines) rather than focusing on growing your startup’s sales.

I’ve heard a lot of horror stories of co-founders staging coups, stealing money and customers, lawsuits freezing personal bank accounts, backstabbing, and ruining careers.

Like divorces, co-founder fallouts can get messy.

This is why I caution any entrepreneur who is conducting a cold search for a co-founder and encourage them to take a slower, alternative route.

If you’re currently pursuing a cold search for a co-founder, here are some alternative routes I would suggest that’ll potentially reduce the impact of finding a bad egg.

Date For Several Years

The growth of freelancing has allowed a lot of awesome creators to break out on their own and hit the market. You can now hire seriously talented and experienced professionals in practically any field to fulfill your startup’s needs. If you have a recurring need such as work for a CFO, COO, designer, marketing, software engineer, etc. I recommend finding a freelancer or small agency to partner with on that need.

Spend some time on several different projects with this individual and gain an understanding of their work ethic, quality, and speed. If all of this seems pretty aligned with your expectations and personal habits, start getting to know this person on a more personal level.

What are their biggest struggles with their business?
What do they usually complain about (if anything)?
What’s their guiding philosophy when it comes to running their business?
How do they handle and resolve stressful situations?

Understanding the answers to these questions help you gain perspective on whether their methods of handling hardships are compatible or stressful with how you handle hardships.

If the feeling hits that this individual may be perfect for the co-founder role of your business, you are now able to make that decision armed with evidence and experience and make the ask.

Keep An Eye Out For Potential Soulmates

Instead of finding a co-founder, you may end up finding a company that sells a product or service similar, or in a complementary fashion to yours.

While you were out building your company, it’s possible that there was another entrepreneur out there doing the exact same thing and hoping for a co-founder.

This is another scenario where you can collaborate, network, or work closely with this company for a good length of time while simultaneously figuring out if they’d be beneficial to partner with for the long-term.

Test the waters, ask the right questions, and get close — learn about the inner workings of the company and the entrepreneur behind it, and how they navigate the waters on a daily basis.

Gain an understanding of whether a potential merger would be a true synergy that uplifts, and only move forward with merger talks if the relationship seems to be a true boost for both parties.

You may have figured out by now that my overarching recommendation for a co-founder search is time. To actually work with someone first, observe them and their response to real-world stressors, and to spend a lot of time doing it.

A co-founder search should not be squeezed within a 90-day get-to-know-you race because you need that person to help you get your startup off the ground. You can absolutely launch your startup with your own means if you commit yourself to that reality and find creative solutions to work around your obstacles. Go launch, and when the timing is right, your co-founder will stroll right on in.

For more startup support, grab my Pitch Deck Checklist or my ‘Find Your Customers’ worksheet to fine-tune your pitch deck or marketing strategy.

Sophia Sunwoo