The magic formula to finding a co-founder is more complex than it seems. When it works, the equation looks like this: 1+1=3.
Building a business is lonely and hard work. It’s easier (but not easy) with the right partner by your side. Having the right co-founder increases your chance of success — and enables you to go farther faster. Here’s why:
Having a partner increases your commitment level. Making a commitment to someone increases your chance of following through with your goals. It forces you to answer to someone. This is especially important in the early stages of starting a business, before you’ve taken money from anyone other than friends and family, who tend not to pay too much attention to your speed of progress.
A co-founder can help keep you sane. The early days are filled with roadblocks and disappointments, and often end with self-doubt. It sometimes feels easier to stop doing this work than to continue with it. A partner who shares the same passion and who is driven by the same goals, vision and values will offer the appropriate encouragement and pressure to stay at it. You can’t underestimate the value of having a sounding board, therapist and cheerleader on deck.
A co-founder enables you to do more. A great product person needs a great engineer. A great visionary needs a great operations czar. When I created both of my recent ventures, WIN and Everwise, I did them with a co-founder. In both instances I needed someone who was willing to run the organizations full-time. In both cases I also found having someone with me made the whole dialogue richer and the end result better. Different individuals bring different skills to the table, as well as different perspectives and different roles. Co-founders often push each other in their respective disciplines — and that drives overall results. Look for someone with skills and abilities that you don’t have and that will complement — and extend — yours.
Consider someone you know. Pick someone you’ve worked with before. Great synchronicity happens with someone you have already collaborated with. Consider how Jerry Yang and Dave Filo hacked together in school before building Yahoo. My co-founder at WIN worked with me at LiveOps and my co-founder at Everwise was an affiliate in my investment network. I knew the magic that could be created with these people and I wanted to do it again.You have to pick the right partner because the danger of making a mistake throws the entire equation off balance. With the wrong partner, 1+1 can amount to nothing. So, how do you find the right person? A few tips:
Spend lots of time together. Founding a company is a big deal. You might want to work your way into it and see if it is working. At Everwise, Mike Bergelson and I investigated the market and spent a lot of time collaborating before we turned it into a formal endeavor. You have to review how the collaboration is working along the way. Do you crave more time together, or wish it had ended earlier? Early interactions with negative chemistry are not going to get better over time. In a way, it’s like dating — take the time to get to know someone before you make a forever commitment!
Make sure you are aligned. People want different things in life. Just as you need to discuss what you want before entering a marriage (do you both want kids?) you must discuss what you want for the company — and reconcile any differences. Some people want a change-the-world business, while others want a lifestyle one. Neither is bad, but they are different. Figure out your values and motivators up front and discuss the following: How do you think about work/life balance? Compensation structure? How big you want to grow this endeavor? What’s the ideal exit strategy?