One of the first obstacles business founders think about is how to find a business idea. The next is how to find a cofounder for your business idea. It isn’t easy. When I started my first businesses, I had the good fortune of meeting my cofounder in school.
I remember sitting beside him on the first day of school. It was orientation, and we were all in an auditorium. We hit it off as friends from then, and did everything in school together: assignments, projects, and even preparing for exams.
When the school holidays came, it was only natural that we decided to find part-time work together. That was how we started exploring doing business as a team, and my first business got started that way. I wasn’t even thinking of how to find a cofounder!
School is great because it was a great place to know how the person worked and operated in a controlled environment (school and classes). How do you replicate it if you’re not in school anymore? What kind of person makes for a good cofounder?
What kind of Cofounder?
The ideal founding team is two individuals, with a history of working together, of similar age and financial standing, with mutual respect. One is good at building products and the other is good at selling them.Naval Ravikant, Co-founder of Angelist
The first thing that you need to identify when thinking about how to find a cofounder is the kind of person that would complement you. This is both in terms of skillsets and character. My cofounders were strong in areas that I was weak in, and vice versa.
Cofounders typically have different personalities. For example, if you’re a daring risk-taker, you might benefit from a cofounder who is conservative and risk-averse. Or if you’re shy and introverted, a sociable and extroverted cofounder might help in terms of growing your business.
The other, more straightforward aspect is of skills. If you are a technical person, then perhaps you need a business cofounder. If you’re a business person, then perhaps you need a tech cofounder.
What are you strong in and weak in? The better you understand yourself, the better you know who you’re looking for. The worst partnerships are the ones that are too complementary, because then it’s hard to understand that value that you bring to the team.
How to Find a Cofounder with the right Values?
When I hire for someone, I look at both aptitude and attitude. This is going to be the same when you’re thinking about how to find a cofounder too. In fact, it’s going to be even more important.
Be it skills or personality types, who you are as a person cuts across everything. You need to find a cofounder with a set of values that align with yours.
Personally, these represent some of the more important core values that I possess, and I look for the same in my cofounder as well:
- Obsessed about building a successful business
- Mutual respect for each other
- Rebellious/Doesn’t conform to norms
The worst way to test for these values is to hear it from the person. The best way to test for them is to see them in action, which happens over time. It’d be great to work on smaller projects together at the start, so that you can understand them a lot better after seeing them in action.
What’s Important in A Cofounder?
I’ve had 2 major businesses, with cofounders that lasted since the day of founding. Besides all the technical aptitude and the important core values, the one thing that I found to be crucial is that all my cofounders and I share a healthy respect for each other.
In my small sample size, I have realised that founders have to be confident , optimistic, and a little “different” from everyone else. It could be their demeanour or their speech or their attitude to things or the way they behave. It takes a special kind of person to be a business founder and go through and ups and downs of starting and growing a business from scratch.
However, it’s absolutely critical that your cofounder and yourself understand each other, be willing to listen to each other, and respect each other. Your shared vision for your business must be greater than either one of you.
You must also be able to communicate and understand each other — directly and openly, because you can’t be walking on eggshells around each other. You must be able to discuss issues and arrive at mutually agreeable, logical outcomes, without it turning personal.
Where To Find A Cofounder?
The next biggest thing about how to find a cofounder is the question of “where”.
My cofounders and I all met in school. School was a great place to test for work ethic, because it was a low-risk environment in which you could see how each other worked.
There are other areas to look for a business cofounder. However, it’s much easier once you have a better idea of the kind of cofounder you’re looking for. If you’re out of school, here are some other ways that you can look for a cofounder.
Going back to school
The first thing that you can consider is actually going back to school. You don’t have to take a 4-year degree program. Perhaps you could take short executive courses in things that would be useful in the running of a business.
These courses attract the right kind of people to take it: driven people who want to improve themselves and are open to the idea of starting a business.
Cofounder communities, hackathons, and incubators
These communities exist to solve the problem that many people face: where to find a good cofounder? Personally, I haven’t heard of anyone having success here, but it’s a possible avenue. An example of these communities is CoFounderLabs.
Alternatively, you can try hackathons or incubators, which bring together people to work on startups. You will be either able to work on an idea of your own or join someone’s idea.
Friends and family
You have an existing social network – make use of it. Think of people who you enjoy working with, such as a coworker, or a fellow student, or even someone who provides a service to you, such as a lawyer, sales professional, and so on. It might be a time to be seeding a conversation or getting them at an opportune time, such as when they’re in between jobs.
Put the word out as well. Friends of friends can be extremely powerful. You need to be as detailed as possible though, but you shouldn’t outright say that you’re looking for a cofounder.
An example of a message that you can put out is, “Hey, I’m starting a business and I’m looking for a tech/business/design person. Do you know of anyone who is good with programming/business/design?”
When you get introduced to people, you can then start a conversation and see if they are even a good fit to begin with before you delve into further details.
If you have a very specific skillset that you’re looking for, a great place to find people is through conferences and exhibitions, or even online through LinkedIn.
It’s difficult, and requires time, but it puts you in touch with people with the exact skillset that you’re looking for. The hardest part about this is to find someone whom you’d enjoy working with, and who would be ready to join you in a startup.
The way to start this is by a simple conversation to get to know each other professionally before moving on to the details of your startup.
If you don’t even know what skillsets you require, I would recommend against even going for networking because it will potentially take up a lot of your time.
Job portals / Gig websites
Another way to find a cofounder is through small projects that you can work together on. For example, if you plan on starting a UX agency, you can outsource initial work to UX designers/Sales/Whatever roles and see if you find people doing good work. If you get along well with them, perhaps you can explore doing more together.
How To Find a Cofounder
Finding a business cofounder isn’t easy, but can be achieved with time and good fortune. In summary, when you’re considering a potential business cofounder, make sure the person:
- Is as hardworking and driven as you are
- Brings different skillsets to the table
- Thinks differently from you, in terms of risks and perspective
- Is someone whose opinion you respect and will listen to
Do you have any other tips on how to find a cofounder? Leave them in the comments below.