Finding a co-founder to start a business/startup with can be best compared to finding a romantic partner (yep…).
You have people making it solo, with occasional flings, and they swear it’s the best life—the freedom, the variety, etc.
Then there are those with long-term partners who also brag about all the great aspects of it. But more importantly, they advise, “You should look for XYZ in your partner because it worked for me”.
(of course, you have all the individuals and couples who are failing at both, but let’s not focus on them :D)
Well, the problem with both scenarios, is that what they are telling you is a hindsight story and path that worked for them. And while it worked for them, it might (and probably won’t) work for you. One size does not fit all. You are unique, your situation is unique, and as such your answer will also be unique.
After reading this article, you’ll know:
- The two most common misconceptions about finding the right co-founder
- 15-dimensional information processing matrix for evaluating your co-founder match
- Tools and platforms to help you find your potential co-founders for your digital agency / b2b service business
- And more…
If you follow the advice outlined below, you’ll save yourself from a failed business partnership. But most importantly, save massive amounts of money, time, and stress.
- The Solopreneur Loneliness, Co-founder Mismatch, and the Perfect Match
- What to Look for in a Potential Co-Founder
- Why Finding a Like-minded Co-founder is a Trap (and What to Look For Instead)
- How To Evaluate Your Potential Cofounder / Business Partner 🔒
- Multi-Dimensional Information Processing Matrix (M-DIPM)
- End-result vs. Process vs. Relationships
- Optimistic vs. Pessimistic
- Creative vs Replicating vs Contrarian
- Active vs. Passive
- Agreeable vs. Antagonistic
- Big Picture vs. Detail
- Competitive vs. Collaborative
- Logic vs. Intuition
- Self-validation vs. External validation
- Similarities vs Differences
- Towards Pleasure vs Away from Pain
- Cause vs. Solution
- Options vs. Procedures
- Extraversion vs. Introversion
- Willingness vs. Demand
- Helpful Resources & Tools
- You Get What You Seek (Choose wisely). 🔒
The Solopreneur Loneliness, Co-founder Mismatch, and the Perfect Match
The first thing that comes up in finding a cofounder is – should you get one?
On the one hand, starting and running the operation solo seems simpler, easier, and less burdensome. However, it is riskier because it requires a bigger investment of both money and time from YOU – the solopreneur. I’d also argue that in our current culture, we tend to idealize the lonely individual who made it work.
The guy/gal who pulled it off against all odds…alone, in his garage. Just look at sports and how we tend to evaluate players based on their individual stats, rather than their teamwork, collaboration, and leadership skills. So, beware of the myth of rugged individualism.
On the other hand, finding someone who possesses a mix of skill, character & willingness to pursue your particular business idea, is – at the very least – challenging. Not impossible, however.
As in the diagram above, if you can start and build a business from scratch, by yourself, you’ll outperform a pair of co-founders whose partnership has mirky foundations. However, it is hard to argue that in the long run and in most cases a well-matched pair of co-founders is going to beat a lonely individual.
Again, don’t take my, or anyone else’s, word for it. Make a list of pros and cons and be your own judge.
What to Look for in a Potential Co-Founder
Paul Graham from Y Combinator in his essay writes:
What people wished they’d paid more attention to when choosing cofounders was character and commitment, not ability. This was particularly true with startups that failed.
The lesson (according to him): don’t pick cofounders who will flake.
I’d tweak his conclusion slightly (to something more nuanced): don’t pick a co-founder whose integrity of character is uncertain (at least to you).
The reason the strength & integrity of character are so important is because they are tested more severely than in most other situations. New business ventures are such emotional rollercoasters that a solid foundation is not a nice-to-have but a necessity (if you wish to survive).
Over the long run, the benefit of … will greatly outweigh any performance boosts from working with someone with better skills/abilities.
Why Finding a Like-minded Co-founder is a Trap (and What to Look For Instead)
Your natural tendency (like mine and most everyone else) is to look for a like-minded entrepreneur. One who has a similar personality shares your values and likes the things you like. I get it, we all have been there. It’s the obvious path that’s easier in the short term. When you’re having fun and life’s beautiful, it even works.
But the problems start popping up when you spend more time together. You both have similar strengths & personalities, so you start colliding. You both also have the same blindspots & weaknesses, so they start multiplying.
Imagine you and your cofounder are planning a large investment. Now, also imagine, that both of you are extremely optimistic. There’s a high chance you are going to miss all the risks & downsides.
So, rather than look for someone with a personality like yours, look for someone that’s going to compensate for your weaknesses.
How To Evaluate Your Potential Cofounder / Business Partner
Below is a list of different dimensions through which we perceive the world and process information.
Don’t look at it as “either this/or that”, but rather a spectrum or %.
For example, you or your co-founder, are not likely entirely end-result, process or relationship-focused. You both probably have a tendency to be one more than the other.
Multi-Dimensional Information Processing Matrix (M-DIPM)
There are two main rules to follow when you look at these different dimensions:
- The importance of any particular dimension depends on the project – the type of project, the scope of it, and your (and your partner’s) role in it.
Check our separate article for more details on how to figure out what skills/personality traits are important for a given project.
- The more extreme you are in a certain dimension, the more extreme your partner has to be in that particular dimension.
End-result vs. Process vs. Relationships
People who focus on process tend to chase the feeling of being in a “flow” state or “the zone”. This is where the time disappears and you simply get lost in the activity at hand.
On the other hand, end-result-oriented people don’t care whether they enjoy the process or not. Their concern is the effects. Eg. Is it making money? Are we making sales? Does the customer want to pay for it?
Optimistic vs. Pessimistic
This one is pretty straightforward. Are you a glass half-empty kind-of-guy/gal, or glass half-full? Do you focus on all the reasons the project can go wrong… or all the reasons it will succeed?
Creative vs Replicating vs Contrarian
Do you tend to create/build things from scratch? – Creative
Or, re-use what others have built already and is proven to work? – Replicating
Or, are you more of a contrarian, that likes to do the opposite of what’s expected of you or forced on you? – Contrarian
Active vs. Passive
Do you tend to act fast and decisively (often without thinking)? – Active
Or, tend to overthink, analyze, and usually require someone to push you to action? – Passive
Agreeable vs. Antagonistic
Do you tend to agree with people? “What do I like about this idea or that person…”
Or do you tend to be skeptical and look for all the reasons you won’t get along…?
Big Picture vs. Detail
Do you tend to zoom out and look at the “bigger picture”? Strategize, philosophize, and look at the whole rather than the parts in detail.
Or do you tend to “get lost in the weeds”…or details without a clear picture of how they connect to the bigger whole?
Competitive vs. Collaborative
Do you perform better when you compete against someone/something?
Or, do you get better results when you include others and find ways to utilize their strengths?
Logic vs. Intuition
Do you tend to analyze facts, data, and arguments for/against when you evaluate ideas or arguments?
Or, do you tend to “trust your gut”, which is your intuition?
Self-validation vs. External validation
Does your sense of worth come from your inner compass and your own opinion of yourself? “I am who I think I am”. Or does your image of yourself reflect the opinions & reactions of others? “I am who others perceive me to be”
Similarities vs Differences
Do you tend to see/focus on similarities between yourself and others?
Or, do you focus on the differences?
Towards Pleasure vs Away from Pain
What is your strongest source of motivation?
Chasing a beautiful vision of a better tomorrow? Or, do you get more motivated when you visualize the vision of failure?
Cause vs. Solution
Do you tend to look for causes of events? Do your favorite questions start with “Why?”
Or, you don’t care much about the cause, but what can you do to solve the problem? Do your favorite questions start with “How?”
Options vs. Procedures
Do you want to expand the number of options and possibilities? Or do you tend to narrow things down and follow a more predictable path?
Extraversion vs. Introversion
Do you get energized by being around people? Especially if you are the center of attention. Or does spending time with people (huge groups) tend to drain you? You prefer solitary time, at home..in peace.
Willingness vs. Demand
Are you at your best when you follow your inner authority or curiosity? “I want to do this…” Or, do you perform better when forced or obliged to do something?
Helpful Resources & Tools
Okay, so where do you look for potential co-founders, and what’s the best way to find your tendencies?
Where to find potential co-founders:
- Y-Combinator Co-founder matching platform
- Large community of founders, developers
- Business groups, communities & masterminds
Personality & tendencies:
- DSM-5 Test (probably the most in-depth, but not widely available… but we have it in TribalMastermind)
- PrinciplesYou Personality Test by Ray Dalio
- Kolbe A Index (find your M.O. – modus operandi)
- CliftonStrenghts Finder by Gallup
Disclaimer: we have no affiliation with any of these sites.
You Get What You Seek (Choose wisely).
So the ultimate question is: are you looking to optimize for short-term gain or long-term endurance?
When you optimize for short-term gain, you may pick the co-founder with the best experience and skill, who you get along the best with.
When you optimize for long-term endurance, you choose the co-founder whose integrity of character & commitment you trust. And the one who complements your weaknesses
Of course, these are two extremes, and your candidate will likely fall on the spectrum between the two. So, evaluate the benefits & risks. Think of % match, rather than Yes/No.
Does this framework guarantee that your co-founder match will be perfect and your business will succeed? Of course not, but it’ll help you make a choice with more awareness and increase the odds of finding the right person.
Good luck with your search.