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Search for Co-Founder is a Search for Alignment
Bringing a co-founder to your start up is a super high stakes decision.
Over the years as an entrepreneur, I have realized that many founders make mistakes while bringing on a co-founder. One of the reasons is that many times this decision becomes a choice between the skills needed by the company and whom you see fit as a partner. But it need not be a choice if you are intentional about whom you bring on. While you may know what you want in a co-founder, there are areas to really watch out for. There are some big NOs for me if the areas below are not clear before you bring a co-founder in-
Core values alignment
If you can’t be on the same page when it comes to your core ethical or business values then it’s going to be tough to work together in the long run. Now it’s very difficult to find this in the beginning but I would encourage you to ask tough questions and see how close or far both of you are on values that matter to you..
Vision & purpose alignment
There should be alignment in your vision for the business as a shared vision certainly makes it easier to function together.
You should also watch out for the purpose—why they want to be part of this journey and more importantly, why do it with you. Their reasons might be different than yours but both of you should be able to appreciate each other’s purpose and respect it. Tread cautiously if you feel otherwise.
Clarity of the co-founder role
Hiring a co-founder has merit only when you know what skills are needed in the company. A co-founder should ideally bring complementary skills to the team. For example, if you are a technologist, then your co-founder could be great at business.
This not only helps to add different skill sets to the organization, but also helps to set clear operational boundaries for both of you. It is critical to discuss this with your potential co-founder and evaluate where they see themselves in the organization. Define their role or at least principally align on what it should be.
You might have to revisit the responsibilities in the future but that should not mean that you will start with ambiguity. Renegotiating the role again and again will turn out to be harmful for both the business and your relationship, especially in the early days of working together.
Clarity of organizational hierarchy
As much as it is important to define clear roles and responsibilities for your co-founder, it is also important to lay down the hierarchy between co-founders.
Of course, titles change all the time and being the CEO might not matter to you now but evaluate if you can at least have these discussions about reporting structures with your prospective co-founder at the beginning. There are some examples of successful co-CEOs but setting functional boundaries is important.
Remember, that there will be times during the co-founder search when you will want to put the company interests above your relationship with the co-founder. But I believe unless you can see yourself working together in the tough times (not just good times), don't commit to someone. Search hard and ask the tough questions needed to be asked to find the right co-founder for yourself!
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