We’ll help you spot the potential pitfalls so you can find your BCFF (Best Co-Founder Forever).
by Yannick Frank
As your idea grows into a real business, you will find more work and responsibilities piling up on your shoulders.
This may be the ideal time to relinquish some of the control of the operation to a Co-Founder - someone who has the same drive and ambition as you, who can share your vision of success!
There are many reasons why you should team up with a Co-Founder including combined manpower, shared networks, and comprehensive skills. It’s also good to have someone on your side celebrating the new heights, but also someone who will be there when times get rough. Before you can enjoy all the benefits of this relationship, you have to decide who will be your BCFF (Best Co-Founder Forever).
The biggest decision for your business!
Choosing your business partner is a big deal and probably the most important decision of your personal and professional life. You can change your idea, switch to a different business model, but you can’t change your co-founders. At least not without a messy, awkward situation that would make a divorce sound like a day at the beach! Building a company isn’t always hugs and high fives.
It comes with a lot of stress and periods where you’ve used up all of your daily supply of motivation just getting out of bed and coming into the office. Therefore, you need someone to walk through the fire and keep pushing you forward through the good times and the bad. At the end of the day, your actual idea is not what sets you apart; who you work with and how you work it are what matters most.
How on earth will you ever find the right person? Don’t sweat it! In the following steps, we will show you how to find the person with both the right skill set and a solid foundation of shared values to join you in creating the strongest foundation possible for your business.
Note: Our recommendations and tips are based on digital startup experience.
Just a note before we dig deeper. MVP’s are not the only approach to product development. And having an MVP is not like finding the holy grail of startup success. But, we think they are one of the best ways to kick off your startup. Let’s get into some actionable steps you can apply to transform your business idea into an MVP.
1. Know what you don't know!
Before you start your search for a co-founder, make sure that you know your missing skills. Get it very clear in your head what your an expert at. And be honest. You might be the world’s greatest programmer, but marketing is a foreign language - make sure to find someone with marketing know-how. Be completely honest with yourself in assessing what you know and what you don’t.
One makes it, one sells it!
The best startup founding team consists of 2-3 people. Their combined skills always cover two major areas: You need to build the product (programmer and/or designer) and you need to sell it (business guru and/or marketer).You might ask “Why just 2-3 people?" You don’t want your founding team look like a football lineup. With more people involved you’ll create more discussions. Pointless discussions. Taking up your most valuable resource. Time to move your business forward. Focus on hiring co-founders who will help you to accomplish your startup’s next goals through either building it or selling it.
2. The DNA of a rock star Co-Founder
It’s no easy task to find the ideal candidate to help create, shape and run your business. Most of us think of our precious startup idea like a child - we don’t want just anybody taking care of it. It’s definitely not an easy job to find a matching Co-founder, but here are some "DNA” characteristics of rock star technical, design and business co-founders that will help you find the Bruce Springsteens and Jon Bon Jovis of the startup world.
Following checklists will help you to find the perfect match:
The business Co-Founder:
Is he/she problem-oriented in terms of figuring out what customers really want?
They are great at listening and are genuinely interested in what you have to say.
Is he/she a good storyteller, able to create a mission statement that others will follow?
Instead of throwing facts around, good story tellers convey there messages into simplified stories.
Is he/she a born socialite with a vast network of potential customers, investors and promoters?
Check their networks on LinkedIn and Facebook. Directly ask for an introductions.
Can he/she write awesome copy, since this will take a huge part of his/her daily work?
Website copy, presentations, etc... Ask them to complete a small copy task for your project first.
Can he/she provide a reasonable plan on how to acquire customers?
Starting a Facebook campaign shouldn’t be the only answer. Marketers must sell and therefore should have a mixture of innovative and proven ideas on how to do so.
The design Co-Founder:
Is he/she a creative thinker who can look at problems from a fresh perspective?
This can be easily tested with a small project or design task, e.g. ask them to design a logo.
Can he/she show off a good track record of designed products you like?
Having a Dribbble account is always a good sign. This invite-only community showcases only the best designers from around the world.
Can he/she communicate ideas to you in a way you understand?
Designers shouldn’t work in a vacuum. Being able to explain concepts to team helps to avoid unnecessary discussions.
Is he/she able to design from a user’s perspective?
Nobody needs fancy, over-designed websites or products. They need to be easy to understand for the end-user.
Can he/she create feasible designs?
It's not about beautiful pictures. The design needs to be implemented into a working product.
The tech Co-Founder:
Is he/she solution-oriented and capable of engineering a solution to nearly every problem?
Remember when MacGyver would diffuse a bomb using a pencil sharpener, a bow tie and a glass of lemonade? That’s the sort of person you’re looking for!
Is he/she good in managing projects and setting priorities?
You need to focus on shipping, not worrying about what will happen if a bazillion customers try to use your app at the same time.
Can he/she show you a portfolio of working products built in the past?
Ask him/her about previous projects. If 50 are still “in production” and nothing is finished, raise a red flag.
Is he/she a person focused on meeting deadlines?
Speed and efficiency are key. You want to get your product in front of customers as quickly as possible.
Does he/she possess a wide range of programming skills?
At the beginning, you don’t need the specialists you need all-rounders.
That’s the nitty gritty for each role. Besides these competencies, you have to find out if somebody has motivations and core values similar to your own.
Startups are a labor of love. Your Co-Founder must share your passion. Be wary of people who are taking an interest for now. Is he/she just doing something to earn a fast dollar or even exploring entrepreneurism as a hobby? Ask yourself this, What is their intrinsic motivation for joining this venture?
Do you share a common set of work attitudes? If you’re willing to work your ass off day and night, while your Co-Founder needs a break every two hours and a regular eight hour work pattern. You might not be a good fit.
Do you get on? Seriously. Would you hang out if there wasn’t a project to work on together? A good indicator is humour since this is one thing I share with all of my closest friends. If we laugh at the same jokes, it’s often a good sign.
3. Where to find your Co-Founder
Honestly, just like no-one can tell you for sure where to meet the love of your life. No-one can guarantee a place to meet your Co-Founder. It’s nothing you can manage to happen. Your goal shouldn’t be to find him or her but have it on your radar while dating as much potential co-founders as possible. Once you know who you are looking for there are definitely some ways to catch a number for a date:
Use your networks
Always start here, it’s the best place to find good matches. Contact colleagues, friends, former co-workers and classmates who might be a good fit and meet with them to see if they are interested. Even if they’re not a good fit themselves, ask to be introduced to other people they know.
Meetups and events
Surround yourself with likeminded people and start networking. Startupdigest.com is a good way to find the best events in your area. Use matchmaking websites: Websites like cofounderslab.com or founder2be.com are an easy way to get connected to people also looking to found a startup.
4. Date before you get married!
One of the most important elements of an ongoing, well-rounded Co-Founder relationship is that you’ve had some dates together before you say ‘Yes, I will work with you!’. Do some small projects together getting to the really important stuff, then build slowly and see how they do when things are running full speed. Just like new parents have to decide who’s going to change diapers at 2:30 a.m., new Co-Founders have to figure out who is going to be answering the annoyed customer support emails. To have a successful working partnership, stressful situations should not always end in even more stressful discussions. Start a small project together to see if it could be the perfect fit.
5. Set expectations and get it on paper!
People change over time and you don’t know how your partner will act 5 or 10 years from now. Maybe they will settle, down, have kids, and not be interested in the business any more. It’s the same old discussion some of you may had before - Do you need divorce clauses or not? In terms of your business, we can highly recommend you to consider founder vesting. Set the right expectations upfront, discuss and harmonize with your new co-founder and get it on paper. It’s not unusual that a co-founder leaves a startup for the stated reasons with a big chunk of equity in his/her pocket.
Let’s wrap up
It’s vitally important that above all else you take enough time to make the right decision for who to work with as a Co-Founder. If you’re not confident in someone - don’t do it! If they give you every confidence - don’t hesitate! Keep this mantra in mind: A Startup’s founders will set the culture for others to follow. Customers. Employees. Investors. Get a Co-Founder. But get the right one.
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