July 16, 2013
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
Ask any venture capitalist to sign your NDA prior to pitching; all you’ll get is their laughter. That’s because ideas are a dime a dozen (likely below your asking price). A startup’s success is determined by the people behind the idea, with those at the top having the greatest influence. Finding the right cofounder is the most important decision you will ever make.
That’s why this week, we reached out to our friends at the YEC to weigh in on the following question, “What is the number one quality you should you look for in a startup cofounder and why?” Their insights are below.
12 Essential Qualities To Look For in a Cofounder
1. Alignment of Values
Everything changes except character. Product ideas, market dynamics and even founder competencies morph over time. Character (what someone deeply values) changes at a comparatively infinitesimal pace. Diversity of gender, age and training can lead to higher team performance. In contrast, a divergence of values makes almost every ingredient of team performance harder to grasp. For example, agreeing on objectives becomes massively harder if two co-founders value different objectives.
2. Passion for the Venture
While you’ll develop the necessary skills, connections and experience by working in the startup, passion is not something that can be manufactured. It takes a lot of dedication to push past the mistakes and pivots necessary in a new company, and without passion for the business, it is easy to lose sight of your goals. This is even more critical with a co-founder because if you feel that your partner has lost interest and is already looking for another business or challenge, then it can sink the company even faster.
3. Complimentary Skill Sets
Look for somebody who likes to do what you don’t and is really good at what you’re not. You want a co-founder who brings everything you’re missing to the table so as a team, you’re the complete package. It’s great to have shared skill sets too, but you want to make sure all the important skill sets are there between the two of you.
4. Comfort With Conflict
Startups require a flexible, creative, open-minded team. A company that succeeds without pivoting multiple times is the exception that proves the rule. When looking for a co-founder, pay very close attention to how he handles conflict. Disagreements are necessary; you have to create an environment where experimentation is encouraged and failure isn’t necessarily looked down upon. Conflict is an opportunity. When you have disagreements, do you and your co-founder listen to each other? Are you arguing for what’s best for the company or to win the argument? If everyone has the same goals, no one will be offended by conflict — no matter how tense the discussion. A healthy co-founder relationship will include conflict with the goal of making better, battle-tested decisions.
5. Passion for Your Cause
The only thing that keeps co-founder disputes at bay is passion for a mutual cause. Make sure you both want to solve the same problem and have the shared passion to do it.
The ability to have a long-term vision and approach to a startup is essential for its ability to survive the ups and downs. If the co-founder has the ability to see well into the future while executing against the day-to-day objectives, the business has a strong chance of not only succeeding, but scaling exponentially.
While some would argue that being friends with a co-founder isn’t necessary, I think it’s a big deal. You wouldn’t be friends with someone who doesn’t share your same values. You wouldn’t be friends with someone who doesn’t share similar interests. Friends are the family you choose. The best part about being friends is that you’ll stick through the rough patches. When business gets rough (and it will), your startup isn’t the only thing holding your business together — you have a friendship to fall back on.
There are lots of other important qualities, but friendship is number one.
A co-founder has to believe in the vision enough to be able to sacrifice EVERYTHING for the sake of achieving success. Your co-founder must realize this job is more than a paycheck — in both the risk and the rewards that are available. Make sure this quality is tested before bringing him or her on to the team.
The number one quality you should look for in a co-founder is someone you can trust. Even if a co-founder messes up now and then, if you have ultimate trust, you will always be able to fix it. I recently heard a successful entrepreneur, Robert Griggs, say, “You can fix a mistake, but you can’t fix a lie.” I think this is extremely relevant when considering who you want to trust half of the company with.
The most important quality that you want in your business partner is drive. You should never mistake your partner’s excitement with drive. All too often, one founder thinks that because his partner is excited about the new business venture, he is also going to do a good job in the future. But the excitement usually is a result of the “honeymoon period,” and once it wears off, if he is not committed to building the business and seeing it through, the other partner tends to be the one driving the company while the other sits back and enjoys the fruits of his labor.
11. Shared Long-Term Vision
It’s easy to get excited about the short term. But what happens after a couple product iterations and a few years? Things can change. Before going into business with someone, talk a lot about the long-term vision and goals of the company. This is more important than friendship, funding or anything else. If you stay consistent with the long-term vision for the business, you’ll grow quickly and have a much better chance of success.
12. A Cockroach or Cactus
Integrity, vision and passion are great, but the reality is, in the majority of cases, you won’t actually be able to exercise those qualities without being a cockroach or a cactus. The average tech company takes one to three years to see a return on investment. During this period, life will suck — it will suck a lot. You’ll be doing twice the work for half the pay (if you’re lucky), and you’ll either need somebody who gets down in the trenches with you (cockroach) or somebody who you can leave to his own devices and only water once a month (cactus). Until you’re profitable, nothing else matters.
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