What is the No. 1 trait you look for when assessing if someone will be a compatible co-founder?
The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
1. Shared Vision
My co-founder and I need to share the same vision for our company. This is the foundation for any successful partnership because, as the business continues to grow and expand, both owners need to understand the primary focus as a whole. A stronger foundation means deeper roots — and the deeper the roots, the further our company can branch out!
I once founded a company with someone who had an identical skill set to mine. We thought that it would work well because we could more easily be on the same page. However, we both found it to be difficult because one of us would always be uncomfortable. Since then, I’ve looked to start ventures with people who have different skill sets, but still add major value to our company goals.
It’s important to not only make sure a potential co-founder has complementary skills, but also to make sure you have similar personal values and opinions on work and life. If one of you is a no-emails-after-hours person and the other is available 24/7, there will likely be some clashes. Ditto if your views on vacation and weekends are different. Have those conversations up front to avoid trouble later.
They say the best way to find great employees is by finding people who are smarter than you — the same goes for finding a co-founder. Choose someone who is even more passionate and informed than you, but shares your core values, and you’ll be set up for success.
I like the “dirty” work of company building, so what I look for most in a co-founder is someone who has a background in the industry I want to enter. I want someone who can help me make the introductions I need, knows the best names to scout for talent and has familiarity with producing and delivering a product. Access is what helps a small company grow quickly.
You’re going to get hit and knocked down a lot as a new company. I look for someone who has had experience overcoming these challenges and consistently making progress in spite of setbacks. Since a co-founder is also someone you’ll rely heavily on for decision making, you want someone who can remain levelheaded when issues come up. Making emotional decisions is always a bad move.
Completing a product can tell you a lot about a person, and the dedication to see a project through from start to finish is an important trait to look for. Completing a product entails long hours and ownership, and it shows drive and commitment on a major scale. You can get a great sense of your potential co-founder’s entrepreneurial abilities by seeing how they tackle and complete a large project.
Co-founder relationships are great when business is good, but they can quickly sour when there is a slump in sales or an unexpected hiccup with production. A great co-founder is someone who not only sticks around during the hard times, but can use that time to find opportunities rather than creating stress. A troubling co-founder is one who is ready to jump ship when the journey gets rough.
The origin of the phrase “strong opinions, weakly held” is obscure, but it’s the best way I’ve seen to sum up the value of a co-founder. To me, the phrase encapsulates someone who thinks deeply and forms strong opinions, even if they’re counter-intuitive. This person is willing to fight for what they think is right, but is always willing to change their mind if new evidence or a better argument is presented to them.