When I wanted to start Alumnify -- an alumni- engagement platform -- I never paid too much attention on deciding who my co-founder would be. I chose my best friend, and we’ve in business together ever since. Looking back, I realize now how fortunate I was. Most of the other companies that my friends started around the same time were plagued with co-founder feuds. Stories of yelling matches over equity, distrust and legal action were constant.
Looking at these situations, I realize how imperative it is to pick the right co-founder. While you can pivot your business, you can’t replace your business partners. To help make your decision on whom to partner with, ask yourself these four questions below. If a candidate fails to meet all four, you must keep looking.
1. Can you sit with the person in an airport for five hours?
As an entrepreneur, early mornings and late nights are often the norm. And in the founding stages, you and your co-founder are going to be together more than you and your significant other. Because of this, you need to make sure you can hang out with him or her for a long time without going crazy.
While people say you should work with people who are different than you, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get along. One of the great joys of being in a startup is the bond that is formed with the earliest employees. Don’t ruin this by working with people you can’t stand, no matter how talented they are.
2. Does she or he always have your back?
I once heard an entrepreneur say all your best friends should be potential co-founders. When I thought of this statement, there’s actually some truth to it. When you think of your best friends, they are the people that always have your back. Through thick and thin, they are there for you. The same should be true about your co-founder. You have to trust that they are going to be at your side no matter what. If there is no trust among co-founders, progress will stall. You’ll have to spend more time worrying about your back than the company’s future.
3. Is the person smarter than you?
You want to work with people who are smarter than you in a crucial part of the business. This is why the product and business duo is so popular. Having the same skillset can be helpful in some situations but most of the time it leaves a huge gap in your business. With that said, you don’t want to be better than your co-founder in everything. This will put you in charge of all the work, and you won’t learn from him or her. Instead, find out your weakness and find someone that is exceptional at it. Those are the types of co-founders that can propel your business forward and make you better.
4. Would you work for him or her?
One of the only questions I asked myself when I selected my co-founder was if I would be willing to work for the person. This is such an important question to ask, because it forces you to test them as a leader. If this person were leading you, would you follow? It’s essential to have the co-founders set an example for the rest of the team. If something needs to change, it starts with the founders. If you pick someone to lead your business with you has poor values, those values will poison the rest of the organization. The ideal situation is you pick a co-founder who’s a better leader than you, and then you learn everything you can form them.