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Startup Playbook: success through failure

How to find a Co-Founder for Your Startup and what to ask them

How to find a Co-Founder for Your Startup and what to ask them first

Finding the right co-founder might be harder than finding a life partner. After all, you will have the share your most precious business baby with them: your startup. 

There are a lot of questions that you need to figure out answers for. Breaking up with someone is tough, breaking up with a business partner might mean the end of your business. You have to minimize the risks. How do you do that? We have an educational module that helps with figuring it all out. Sign up for our free startup school and go to "Startups and Teams" module. 

Do you have an urge to become an entrepreneur? (You might want to analyse your entrepreneurial potential here). That's a great start! For everything else, there's Elona, the AI startup co-founder for you! As your AI co-founder, Elona delivers a powerful combination of expertise, support, and motivation to help you conquer the world of startups.

Let's get started and discuss these things:

  • Are you sure you need a co-founder?
  • Where to look for co-founders?
  • What do you need from them and what can you offer to them?
  • The magic world of equity and how to split it
  • What questions do you need to discuss before you make your choice?
  • Do you need to make it official and sign a shareholders' agreement?

Do you even need a co-founder?

Finding the best co-founder for your startup is one of the most important decisions you will make when starting a business. A co-founder can be a great asset and provide invaluable support and insight, but it is also important to be sure that you are compatible with the person and that they bring the right skills and experience to the table.

The first question to ask yourself is whether you even need a co-founder. If you have the skills and experience to launch and manage the business on your own, then you may not need one. However, if you are lacking in certain areas, such as technical skills or marketing knowledge, then having a co-founder can be a great way to fill in the gaps.

Take a pause and ask yourself why you are looking for a co-founder. Why do you need one? What kind of a co-founder are you looking for? Why would that person want to become your co-founder? How are you going to decide on whether it's a fit or not? 

Might that be because you heard that investors like a team with two or three people in it? Or is it because you were told that a business co-founder needs a technical one in order to get started? 

If we get into details, the article might become too long, but in 99% of cases in the very early stage (pre-MVP), you DO NOT need a co-founder. Especially a technical one. What you might need in the beginning is a community of like-minded people and experts who will guide you. Chances are, that's exactly where you will meet your perfect co-founder. 

In our startup game for women (sorry, gentlemen, but we will add you later on) users build a virtual startup together, choose their co-founders or proceed solo and get to know people they work with by actually building a startup together. 

Long story short: when you are only getting started, you do not need a technical co-founder. Anybody can learn how to build an MVP on their own. And you don't need any tech skills to validate the idea, which is the main problem that you need to solve. Once that is done, go ahead and get yourself a technical buddy who will dig deeper into the specifics.

Founding a startup is not an easy matter requiring a lot of effort, time, and, surely, money. You may be an experienced tech specialist with many years of experience in the industry or you may be a college graduate (or even a dropout) with no technical skills or job experience. Either way, you have probably heard that founding  your own startup is hard and you need funds to do so.  

Well, yes, it's hard, but so is life. Not many people marry the first person they date. Many people get divorced and marry the second time. The divorce rate is 50-60%. It's not much different for co-founder break ups. They are more common than you think, but most startups don't like to talk about this. 

We are not here to scare you out of getting a co-founder, we just want you to take it seriously and only get one when you absolutely cannot continue building a company without one. And don't forget about due diligence. 

There are many factors determining whether a startup will be successful — and finding the right co-founder is considered to be one of the crucial ones. The question is how to find the right person for your startup and what characteristics to look out for in them.

TL;DR When it comes to finding a co-founder, it is important to be clear about what skills and experience you are looking for. It is not always necessary to have a technical co-founder, but it can be helpful if you are starting to talk to investors. It is more important to find someone who is compatible with you and who shares your vision for the business. Once you have identified a potential co-founder, it is important to ask them the right questions. These should include questions about their experience, their skills, and their vision for the business. You should also ask about their availability and commitment to the business.

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7 tips on How to Find a Co-founder

There are a number of ways to find a co-founder. You can start by networking with people in your industry and asking for referrals. You can also use online platforms such as AngelList or CoFoundersLab to connect with potential co-founders.

1.Search for a partner who shares your values

Choosing the right business partner is almost as important as finding the right spouse. Finding a co-founder, who shares your values, will make it possible to prevent conflicts even before they start. Imagine starting a green-tech company with someone who doesn’t care about the environment. Any business creates a corporate culture and it is best to start forming it in the very beginning.

Take a look at some of the questions that you might want to discuss before you decide to partner up with someone. Note that we are not talking about their core skills here, as that's up to you to know what it is that your startups needs. 

  • What are your strengths and skills beyond the core expertise?
  • What are your weaknesses? How do you work around them?
  • What words would your co-workers use to describe you?
  • How do you deal with conflict? Describe a time you dealt with it well — and a time you didn’t.
  • What’s the worst interpersonal conflict you’ve dealt with? How did you handle it?
  • How do you cope with stress? Did you ever have a burn out?
  • How do you strongly believe in and why?
  • Describe your work style. What does your typical work day look like?
  • How many hours/week are you willing to work? Are you willing to work night to meet a deadline?
  • Which one of us is going to hire and fire people?
  • What do we do if one of us gets sick for a long period of time?

Do you want to go deeper into this? Check out our "Startups and teams' module in our FREE startup school and dive right in. Sign up here

2.Look for a co-founder who can add value to your team

Sharing values and vision is important, but it is also crucial to find someone with complementary skills and preferences. For example, if you are good with tech but bad with people you should ideally find a co-founder with highly developed communication skills, and so on. Co-founders with strengths and traits that support each other make a good match. 

The rule of thumb here is that startups take a long time to get to success. In the beginning you might be ok with doing stuff that you hate. But are you really going to be happy doing something that you don't like for 5 years? Nope, as it is a direct road to burn out. So ideally you find a co-founder who loves doing what you hate. For example, someone who hates numbers might need someone who loves numbers otherwise coming up with financials, business models, CACs, etc. will turn into a nightmare for someone who hates that. 

Does that surprise you now that we urge you not to start looking for a co-founder before you figure out what it is that you need? Make sure you know what you love, what you hate, what you are good at and what you suck at. Make a list of traits that you hate in other people and figure out a way to find out if your future co-founder has something that drives you crazy. 

3.Prepare a checklist of things you are looking for in a potential co-founder

Only after you figure stuff out about yourself should you move to the next step. 

As we’ve mentioned before, pay attention to vital complementary skills and make sure that you know what those are not only for the stage that your startup is at now, but fast forward a year, 3 years, 5 years . Your list should also of course cover professional qualifications, working style, and other relevant aspects. A piece of advice from our experience: pay attention to their learnability, i.e. their ability to learn a new skill in a short period of time.  

4.Attend startup events

Startup incubators in many cities help aspiring entrepreneurs find partners, and potential clients and start business activities from scratch. Those events are easy to find in large cities or online. This leads to the next tip of ours.

5.Move to a city with a good startup ecosystem

When creating a startup you may consider relocating to a city that already has a great startup scene. Consider Malta or the Netherlands if you live in Europe as these two countries have an attractive startup ecosystem and what's important, both countries use English as a business language.

Are you interested in incubators and funding in the Netherlands or Malta? Do you want to relocate your startup to Europe or are looking to establish a company here and get funded? Send us a quick message and we will consult you for free. 

Also, we have a complete FREE module about Startups in Malta and the Netherlands where you can learn about setting up a company and getting funded. Sign up for the free startup school and navigate to "Startups in Malta" module by typing "Malta" in the search or "Startups in the Netherlands" module by typing "Netherlands" in the search. 

6.Try searching online

LinkedIn is probably the best social network in terms of looking for business partners. There are some facebook groups that are meant to get acquainted with other founder. Try joining online business networking groups where founders are hanging out. Typically, such groups require you to pay a fee and meet certain requirements but some of them, such as the Fe/Male Switch startup game will give you a chance to test potential co-founder by building a virtual startup. 

7.Seek help from mentors

Business mentors are usually people with a lot of experience in the business sphere. Seeking their help is a great way to find a startup co-founder. A mentor usually knows people in the industry and will be able to put you in touch with credible candidates.

Equity splits and shareholders' agreements

When it comes to discussing equity, it is important to be clear about what each person is bringing to the table. This should include both financial and non-financial contributions. It is also important to discuss how the equity will be divided and how it will be managed. Finally, it is important to consider whether you should sign a shareholders’ agreement. This is a legal document that outlines the rights and responsibilities of each shareholder and can help to protect both parties in the event of a dispute.

When founding a startup, almost every benefit comes with a risk. Holding off on the equity split in

order to be more informed can cost the team an opportunity to attract another co-founder.

Furthermore, equity-split negotiations are usually much calmer when done before the stakes

become very high, which means before any financing has been secured and an objective valuation has been established. Negotiating when millions of euros of financing are on the line

leads to very different dynamics and can make it very hard for the co-founders to agree.

Want to know more? Check out the Equity splits presentation in the "Startups and teams" module in our free startup school

And as for signing a shareholders' agreement, the answer is Yes. Always do it. Do you need a template? Send us a message and we will send you the one that our lawyer has prepared to be used in the startup game. 

In conclusion, finding the best co-founder for your startup is an important decision and should not be taken lightly. It is important to be clear about what skills and experience you are looking for and to ask the right questions. It is also important to discuss equity and to consider whether a shareholders’ agreement should be signed. By taking the time to find the right co-founder, you can ensure that your business has the best chance of success.

Create a checklist, grow your network, and look for the right partner for your business. 

If you want to find a co-founder, apply to Fe/male Switch startup game for women and meet other future female founders, build your startup in a game together and test whether this person is a good fit. 

Want more startup knowledge now? Join our Startup School and start studying for free.
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