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When I started building my first company, things were difficult — the pandemic was at its peak, and my team and I only had bootstrap cash to carry us for a few months. There was a real risk that our company would die.
Looking back, I realized that there were distinct traits among us co-founders that were necessary to push through. Those are the traits any founder should have, and I recommend you look for them when searching for a co-founder.
Traits every co-founder should have
Look for someone with intellectual curiosity and humility in equal parts. Someone willing to figure things out can conquer anything. A great co-founder knows they don’t know everything but is eager to find out.
For my team, this became critical when we pivoted from building a flashy consumer app to building an outsourcing solution for small and medium businesses. This pivot meant giving up a big part of our initial dream, so it required letting go and getting familiar with a completely unfamiliar space. Being open to this change and embracing it made us ultimately successful.
Pivots are virtually inevitable when building any tech startup. However, these aren’t always as consequential as the example above. Primarily, there are slight iterations in the product, reorganizations in the team structure, alterations of the marketing approach, or a slight change in the business model.
A good example is the use of software while scaling: Facebook Messenger might be a great communication tool for a team of three, but it won’t cut it for a team of 15, so you need to switch to a different solution.
This is true for virtually any aspect of a company, so you will constantly change tools, processes, and even team members. As an entrepreneur, those slight changes are a constant, so any good co-founder must be comfortable continually changing things.
Coming from a military background, I have a particular relation to trust. In my previous career, I had to trust my fellow soldiers with my life — literally. While this is rarely the case in a startup, trust is essential for your venture to bloom. Only when you trust someone completely will you let them work in their domain without the need to check their work or control them.
You must trust your co-founders because your lives will be entangled. You will spend hours working together and influence each other’s finances, reputations as entrepreneurs and more. A lack of trust will severely hamper your effectiveness and might even become a blocker to overall success.
4. Data Focus
If you look at successful startups, you will find founders who base decisions on data rather than on gut feelings. Sure, people may have some success following their instinct without reliable data. However, ignoring reality and not measuring criteria relevant to the hypothesis will likely do them a disservice in the long run.
I have learned this the hard way as a CMO running social media ads: I used to ideate and select ad images based on my perception of what our customers might find appealing.
Unfortunately, our ad success was mediocre, so I outsourced ad creation to a remote manager. Only with his approach of rigorously testing a variety of images did we finally gain strong traction and reach a feasible return on investment.
People aware of their biases, prioritize data over their gut feeling, ask the right questions and collect meaningful data are invaluable additions to a founding team.
5. Sales acumen
A founder does not need to have a background as a salesperson, but they have to be good at selling. As an entrepreneur, you always sell to customers, early team members, investors, business partners, etc.
At least one founder (in early-stage companies, typically the CEO) should be excellent at selling since you have to get the word out about your company and have people buy into what you are doing.
When looking for a co-founder, pay special attention to how persuasive they are when talking about things they care about. This will be a good indicator of their sales acumen.
6. Complementary skill sets
When looking for a co-founder, it is easy to make the mistake of only considering people like you. This is only human since we tend to associate with people with similar beliefs, skill sets, etc. However, for a co-founder, you want to have someone who is not like you.
Think of building a business as a relay decathlon, where racers must divide the various disciplines to succeed. To put it bluntly: If you are a tech genius, find someone great at sales and business strategy and vice versa.
Related: 3 People You Have to Hire
While flexibility is precious in a startup environment, a founder should also be steadfast and dedicated. It takes a lot of passion to power through the ups and downs of building a tech company, and founders need to stick to their guns when things get tough.
However, it’s important to take feedback into account, too. Don’t confuse grit with stubbornness — it’s essential to adhere to your vision and keep executing and iterating despite setbacks. A great entrepreneur can walk the fine line between persistence and welcoming sensible change.
Picking a co-founder is critical since it will define your venture’s success (or failure) by an extraordinary magnitude. Ideally, you will find someone whom you already know. It’s a good idea to thoughtfully review your network and identify friends, current or former colleagues and classmates as potential candidates.
Don’t rush into a decision. Give it time and get to know your potential future co-founder. Trust, adaptability and grit, in particular, take time to evaluate, and choosing hastily can cost you more time down the road.
Instead, take time to evaluate your potential co-founder’s traits. Knowing someone will help you assess their character and determine whether they bring the qualities needed to be a successful entrepreneur.