I spent half a year on the co-founder hunt with my previous startup, Next Games. Along the way, I got lucky with great people being available, but also, the timing was great as mobile was just taking off big time in 2013, and many people realized that it was now or never.
But how did I make the right choices?
Picking the right co-founders for your startup can be a critical decision that can determine the success of your startup. Choosing co-founders who share your vision, values, and commitment to the business is essential. However, this can be easier said than done, as selecting a co-founder can be rife with pitfalls and potential mistakes.
Let's dive into my six most important lessons on ensuring you have the right co-founders.
1. Great founders don't rush the co-founder search. The first mistake many startup founders make is rushing to find co-founders. This can happen when a founder is eager to start and wants to build the company quickly. Rushing the process of finding co-founders can lead to hiring the wrong person, which can be disastrous for the business. It is essential to take the time to evaluate potential co-founders carefully and to be patient in the process.
2. Hiring the right co-founders. I've always felt that the most significant leverage that founders have in their startups is at the beginning when they are picking their co-founders. Maybe the founder aspires to become the CEO, which they've always wanted to become. But maybe there would be someone much more capable as "the captain of the ship" who could make the company the hottest startup. The best at fundraising? The best at attracting talent? Being attractive helps you to get off the ground in so many ways.
3. Talking a lot. Founders can make the mistake of not having open and honest communication with their co-founders. It is essential to have transparent communication with your co-founders from the beginning, to ensure that you are all on the same page and have a shared understanding of the business. Lack of communication can lead to misunderstandings and create tension and conflict, harming the business. It often makes sense to involve a coach or a co-founder therapist early on to ensure that communication is well established. I've had outstanding experiences with Laavu, a Finnish company specializing in startup co-founder coaching.
4. They have shared values and aspirations. A common mistake is choosing a co-founder based solely on their skills and experience. While skills and experience are undoubtedly essential, finding someone who shares your vision and values is also crucial. This can be challenging, as it can be challenging to determine if a potential co-founder has the same values as you do. However, it is crucial to have these discussions upfront to ensure that you are both on the same page.
Do the co-founders want to build a company with shared values, similarly, with a similar timeline in mind? Let's break these down.
Co-founders can figure out their shared values by openly and honestly discussing what is important to them personally. They can also reflect on their past experiences and what they have learned. It's vital to reveal shared values because they will guide decision-making, shape the company culture, and help prevent conflicts. Having shared values can also create a sense of unity and purpose among co-founders, leading to better collaboration and success in achieving the company's goals.
As necessary is to know that you want to build similarly. Big ambition is easy, but you will be laying millions of bricks along the way to that big ambition. Do you want a company that doubles in headcount every year for the next five years? Or do you want it to triple for the first five years and then double for the next five? Do you want to "build in public?" Find out everything that matters to your co-founder regarding work, painstaking, slowly moving progress. That way, you can find alignment in all the areas of your interaction and collaboration on building your company.
5. Complementary skills. One of the founders' most significant mistakes when selecting a co-founder is choosing someone too similar. While it is essential to find someone who shares your values and vision, it is also important to find someone with complementary skills and strengths. Having a co-founder who is too similar to you can lead to a lack of diversity in ideas and decision-making, which can be detrimental to the business.
6. They are looking at past experience. Another mistake that founders can make is choosing a co-founder based solely on their past successes. I see this often in investing, where people treat someone working for a "big successful games company" as a sure bet. Past success can be an indicator of future success. Still, evaluating a potential co-founder based on their current skills, understanding how markets have changed, experience and commitment to the startup is essential. A co-founder with past successes but not committed to your startup may not be the right fit.
As mentioned in this article, picking co-founders can have the most considerable leverage your company will ever have. As the African proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others."
(Photo by Jessica Lewis Creative)