How to Determine an Effective Cofounder Match

Last month, I wrote about how to find a technical cofounder. Here is a follow-up.

Let’s say you have found a potential cofounder. Life is great, you got your cake!

But wait. Are you sure this is the right person?

Having a cofounder is like having a spouse. You both will be undertaking one of the most difficult activities a pair can do. So it is very important that you have the right partner.

How can you tell if this cofounder is the right one for you? It ultimately depends on your compatibility with each other, though here are a few personality traits to consider. Without these, your cofounder (or you, for that matter) 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 this person is compatible with you and will make an effective business partner.

Here are some questions you can ask 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 or little salary for the foreseeable future?”
Adaptability
“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?”

It is typically better to have worked together with this person before, so you have an idea of this person’s working style and temperament. It’s easy for someone to say, “Yes, I am comfortable with startup risk,” but much harder to demonstrate it if you haven’t seen it before.

Some of these traits, such as complementary personalities, are even harder to assess. Determining 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. Then try to find an environment that may be stressful, like working on a paid contract or pet project together.

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 is my belief that you should part ways as quickly, yet respectfully, as possible. There is no room for the wrong people in a startup.

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

2 thoughts on “How to Determine an Effective Cofounder Match”

  1. Very insightful article. Skill matching is a large topic in itself. I found that when I went looking for my co-founder – some of the soft skills and points you made here turned out to be more important than the skills I was seeking. After my first year I can say this was the right decision – while it is a bonus to get the skills you need, stamina, attitude, and passion trump skills for sure. 

    Also want to share with reader that we have built a free co-founder matching service you can check out at CoFoundersLab.com

    1. Thanks for the kind words. CoFoundersLab.com looks pretty nice! The detailed cofounder profile is a step above the other cofounder matching services I’ve seen. Someone I know has been curious about this problem space and asked this question on Quora, which sparked some interesting answers & discussions:
      http://www.quora.com/Startup-Business-Models/Which-business-model-would-be-better-for-a-find-a-co-founder-website-Match-com-or-eHarmony

      (I’ll add your URL to my answer too.)

      Good luck with CoFoundersLab!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *