Last month, I wrote about how to find a technical cofounder. Here’s a follow-up.
Let’s say you’ve found a potential cofounder. Life is great, you got your cake!
But, no. Life, alas, is not always that easy.
There are certain personality traits that are necessary for a cofounder. Without these, your cofounder may not survive the early stages of your startup. Sometimes the exhilaration of finding a cofounder is so great that people don’t consider whether or not the cofounder will truly make a dependable and reliable business partner.
In other words, “Are you interested?” shouldn’t be the only question asked. I’ve seen colleagues inadvertantly do this. Heck, I’ve inadvertantly done it too.
So what other questions should be asked to determine an effective cofounder?
- Passion & personal interest
- “Are you interested? Do you genuinely care about this market, these customers, and this solution? Will you still care about it in 2-5 years or more?”
- Mental stamina
- “Do you know the risks involved in starting a company from scratch? Have you done this before? How comfortable are you with risk? How comfortable are you working with no salary for the forseeable future?”
- “How comfortable are you with frequent change? Would you be willing to change the entire business model if we discover our current idea will not work?”
- Communication, interpersonal & conflict resolution skills
- “What is your communication style? Can you communicate effectively with a wide range of people? How do you resolve conflicts? How self-aware are you? Do you have leadership skills?”
- Personal integrity
- “Can I trust you? Do you trust me? How do we really know we can trust each other? Do you keep your word? Are you reliable? Are you a self-starter? Will you follow through on your responsibilities?”
- Complementary talents & skills
- “What talents and skills do you have that I don’t? Are your skills competent enough to help prove this business model and create a minimal viable product? Are your skills competent enough to hire great people?”
- Complementary personalities
- “Do we get along? Does your personality and communication style mesh with mine? Could we travel together on a 6-hour flight, then a week-long hotel stay, without strangling each other? How about working almost 24/7 for several years together?”
These aren’t questions that should be asked verbatim. Find a way to have cofounder candidates share past experiences that illustrate these traits. It’s easy for someone to say, “Yes, I am comfortable with startup risk,” but much harder to demonstrate it.
Some of these traits, such as complementary personalities, are even harder to assess. Determinnig such a fit takes time. Social activities is one good method of doing so. Go get a meal together and chat about non-work topics. Put yourselves in an environment that’s relaxed, so your true personalities emerge. Ideally, you’d also find an environment that’s highly stressful (like an actual startup is) to get a more accurate account. But doing that is difficult, not to mention uncomfortable.
It’s hard enough to find someone willing to be a cofounder. Finding one that is a good match for you significantly narrows the pool. However, the wrong choice can be catastrophic. This is not a decision to be taken lightly, nor in desperation.
Finally, be aware that your first choice may be wrong. If so, and you truly believe your cofounder is not a good fit, it’s my belief that you should get rid of him/her as quickly, yet respectfully, as possible. There’s no room for the wrong people in such an early-stage company.
Photo by: hyper7pro