September 23, 2015
When Harvard Business School Professor Noam Wasserman surveyed tech and life sciences entrepreneurs, he found that the overwhelming majority – 84% – had a cofounder. Cofounders can provide the skills, connections, and emotional support that we need to succeed.
In his book The Founder’s Dilemmas, Wasserman offers many guidelines for deciding if you should recruit a cofounder and who might be a good fit. In the end, it mostly comes down to knowing yourself.
Although you might think that any cofounder is better than no cofounder, the wrong partner is at best a distraction and at worst the future cause of your demise. Finding the right fit is crucial to avoid future arguments, legal battles, and unnecessary failure. If you’re not sure where to start, take some time to contemplate these questions:
1. What’s your working style? Some entrepreneurs prefer to work collaboratively, hashing out decisions and brainstorming together; others prefer to divide and conquer. Some entrepreneurs thrive on a fast pace and adrenaline, while others prefer a more steady, disciplined environment.
2. Do you have the same values and motivation? According to Wasserman, entrepreneurs are motivated by either wealth or control. Picking a cofounder who wants to make it big while you’re in it for the power and freedom might backfire.
3. How independent do you want to be? Of course, entrepreneurs who have a strong independent streak might find a cofounder stifling. Does the thought of consulting someone else about your decisions and not always doing things your way make you uncomfortable?
4. What weaknesses do you have? One of the main reasons to recruit a cofounder, Wasserman says, is to fill in your gaps. You may be lacking in certain skills (human capital), in the right connections (social capital), or in your bank account balance (financial capital). A cofounder is meant to complement you.
5. Is this person too similar to me? But instead of searching for our complement, we often choose cofounders who are just like us: the same gender, race, academic background, and skills. Resist this all-too-common mistake and ask yourself honestly: “Is this person really adding things that I don’t bring to the table?” Wasserman recommends – even if it means saying no to a buddy who wanted to do business with you.
6. How much emotional support do you need? At the end of a grueling day, many entrepreneurs find comfort in commiserating with a fellow partner in crime. Only choose to go it alone if emotional support really isn’t high on your list of priorities.
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