Finding “the one” in business doesn’t have to be so elusive.
October 31, 2019 6 min read
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Getting a company off the ground is hard work. A great business can only go so far without proper planning, adequate financing and, arguably most importantly, the right team to help it succeed. The people that you take along with you on this journey can have a direct and lasting impact on its success, and that holds especially true for those who are with you from the beginning.
Identifying and solidifying the right co-founders is a bit like trying to find “the one” in dating. You are ultimately seeking a lifelong commitment, or at least for the life of the business. Like any relationship, a co-foundership isn’t always a walk in the park, but it can be a rewarding and successful union if you take some critical steps to assess whether that person is the right fit early on.
Having worked in venture capital and gone through the process of identifying founders myself, I’ve been witness to good, bad and even ugly co-founder relationships. Read on for my tips on identifying the best business partner for a long-lasting business endeavor.
1. Find someone that complements your skillset.
Just as most people prefer not to date someone with traits identical to their own, when seeking a co-founder, you should look for someone who compliments your skillset and brings something to the table that you don’t. A successful union can involve one person who understands how to run a business and another who excels at buillding a product or service. For example, in the technology world, an ideal match is a co-founder who’s business-oriented and another that understands the technology. Or if you are starting a restaurant, a dynamic duo might be someone who understands the food, like a chef, joining up with someone who understands what it takes to run a restaurant from a business and operations perspective.
It is important to remember that finding a complimentary business partner isn’t just about identifying skills in the other person; rather, this phase requires deep self-reflection as well. For many, acknowledging the skills they lack and pinpointing where they need help can be challenging, but it is a critical first step in effectively identifying the right skills and strengths you need in a partner.
2. Make sure your vision is aligned from the get-go.
Beyond the business idea and product or service itself, it’s important to outline strategy as much as possible with a potential business partner and ensure you are on the same page from the start. In the same way that you’d work to assess a potential significant other’s long-term relationship goals (e.g. whether they eventually see themselves getting married or want to raise children) to avoid any surprises down the line, you should always lay down your vision for the company and assess alignment in early discussions.
An effective assessment will cover questions such as, “Do you want to create a large company or a small company?” “Do you envision long-term growth or a quick exit?” and, “Are you open to product or service expansion down the line, or do you want to focus on doing one thing really well?”
While any business owner will tell you that unexpected pivots are made through different stages, it’s important to lay all of these fundamentals out openly together to identify any major dissionace. This gives you the chance to hash it out, compromise and align or cut ties before committing to the partnership.
3. Discuss business and organizational philosophies.
While it’s impossible to be to iron out every detail, it is critical that you settle on business and organizational philosophies in early discussions. Have an open and honest conversation about cultural beliefs, values, norms and ethics, as well as how these things apply to your leadership style and how you plan to incorporate them into your business. Ask questions that get to the core of a person’s business philosophy like, “How do you think about communication, transparency and empowerment of people?” “How much do you need to be involved in day-to-day operations?” and, “How would you describe your leadership style?”
Whereas skillsets should be complementary, philosophies should be tightly aligned. Views on the world and core principles are often rigid and hard to change, so ensuring unison here is key.
Related: Why I Had to Fire My Co-Founder
4. Trust your gut.
Ultimately, a successful partnership comes down to having the right chemistry. During the assessment phase, pay very close attention to personality similarities and differences and how being around this person makes you feel. For example, do things “just click?” Are you able to be yourself and share your honest thoughts? Would you enjoy being around this person outside the workplace? Or is open, frank conversation hard to come by? Do they do things that just frankly bother you? If you answer yes to the latter two questions, it’s wise to reconsider.
Observe the person closely in action in the workplace as well. What’s their working style? What are the people they hire like? Do they demonstrate the ability to compromise? Make sure to evaluate how that person deals with stress, disagreements or bad news. Do they lash out or spring into action when problem-solving? If something just doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and address the issue quickly, even if that means severing ties altogether.
Founding a business is a journey with many peaks and valleys, and a good co-founder must be willing and able to deal with changes that come with a natural evolution of a company’s life cycle. This means not only sharing a growing workload, but also joining you on the emotional rollercoaster ride that is running a business. Seeking out complementary skill sets, establishing a shared vision, ensuring philosophies are aligned and ultimately trusting your gut on chemistry will help you identify “the one” for your business and put you on the path to long-term, mutual success.