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Finding your cofounders

Posted by : Lisa Clark

You have likely already set a vision for your idea created from a core group of values. Bringing people into the idea who do not agree with the vision or values will work against you from the offset. From the beginning, make sure the other person is clearly aware of your value system and that on which you built the business idea.

One of the most critical and consequential decision of any startup is identifying the correct founding partners. This close-knit relationship that occurs over years of product and business development requires a level of intensity that could easily cause most partnerships to fizzle. Once you are ready to bring a partner into your potential business, critical thinking and strategic planning will help you identify people who may be a good fit:

Look for the skills you want.

Maybe you are a technical innovator but don’t have the skills to sell a product. Per chance you can network really well, but don’t have the hustle to get up and execute on projects everyday. Seek out people who have been successful, or have the personality to fill in the gaps you may be lacking. This will take introspection, and you may have to elicit feedback from friends and peers, but if you’re putting the success of your business as your primary goal, identifying your weakness will be more appreciated than disdained.

Look for expertise you lack.

Deep knowledge on a subject area can help you avoid simple pitfalls, and could save you from a business failure. Expertise through education and experience should be heavily weighed, especially if you find that you jive with the other person. When looking for this skill, make sure you are not looking for an individual who will put so much weight on their expertise that personal growth is off the table. If the person explicitly self-identifies as an expert or appears overly confidant, take this as a warning sign, not a positive signal.

Look for someone who augments your personality.

Often it’s the people who make us feel good that get us the farthest. If you are able to find the Ying to your Yang, the person who you believe will help get you through daily problems, and makes you want to be better, consider them as a founding partner. Since your primary goal is business success, make sure they can help you meet the goals of the business first, and if you believe they can, make sure you move them to your next round of interviews.

Look for a partner with connections.

A deeply networked individual can be critical to the success of your business. They can more expediently help you earn new clients, gain access to capital funding meetings, and are often in touch with more in the know on the industry you are pursuing. If someone has many network connections, you are more assured that they are the people who put the time into the maintenance of the relationships – this is a rare attribute that should not be weighted lightly.

As for any job role, fit is more important than initial skills. If the person cannot take feedback, no matter how good they are at one skill set, they are going to be difficult to work with and maintenance of the relationship will take excess time. Since skills are taught and this is a long-term relationship you are seeking, a growth mindset will get you much farther than one set of learned skills. When looking for candidates, Seedzi suggests seeking the following:

  • Accountable
  • Adaptable
  • Comfortable with ambiguity
  • Comfortable with adversity
  • Growth mindset
  • Humble
  • Open to feedback
  • Resilient
  • Self-actualized
  • Strong communication skills
  • Team player

It’s hard to find a person who is a master at all of these skills, we are all in our personal growth journeys to get better at them. When talking with potential founders, listen and watch for them to signal these eleven characteristics as sometimes they can be hard to cue into. For example, a person who is humble may not speak much of their previous accomplishments and a strong team player may not tell you that they stayed late everyday to make sure the team was caught up on their work because they felt it was a responsibility, not something that made them unique. To really try to get at the core of these characteristics, ask the person questions about their history and give them a lot of room to answer. If you want to know how good a humble person is at a skill, you may ask them about how they have impressed their employers in the past; if you want to understand if someone is a team player, you may ask them about how they get to know new teammates or classmates.

These soft skills can be hard to identify from someone you just met. It’s perfectly appropriate and acceptable to talk to the person many times to try to get the information you need from them. Frame it as the opportunity to get to know you and your idea, and meet them at a coffee shop and pay for their order. Use as much time as you need to really understand the person and how they would help the business come to life.

The last and most important key to the relationship is making sure your values align. You have likely already set a vision for your idea which created from a core group of values. Bringing people into the idea who do not agree with the vision or values will work against you from the offset. From the beginning, make sure the other person is clearly aware of your value system and that on which you built the business idea. Try to find someone who sees the world in the same way as you, and are passionate about bringing that vision to life.

While finding your initial founding partners may feel arduous, it is almost always worth the effort. It will help grow your business faster and bolster your own enthusiasm. Just make sure you are asking the right questions and you are looking for the best way to grow the business, and don’t settle until you have found the exact person you are looking for.

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