Whether you’re a first-time founder or a seasoned entrepreneur, choosing with whom you’re going to be in the ring is quite possibly the most important decision you can make in the process.
The cofounder relationship is a lot like a marriage, and since you often end up spending more time with your business partner than your spouse, making sure you pick the right one can be crucial.
There are those lucky few who end up starting a business with their best friend, sibling, or childhood friend (though I’m not sure I’d recommend it), but for the rest of us with a great idea and an even greater need for help, it can be daunting to decide with whom to shack up and share the realization of your dreams.
Although there is no perfect fit or magical formula to find that elusive perfect partner–and in the absence of a Tinder for cofounders–below are a few helpful tips for finding “the one.”
It sounds like a truism but in order to know whom you would best fit with, you have to know yourself first. Before you even start thinking of potential cofounders, take the time to evaluate–honestly–what your strengths and weaknesses are. It’s also important to identify where you are willing to give up control.
As an entrepreneur you may be used to doing and deciding everything yourself. Going into business with someone else means giving them responsibility and oversight over a part of that, so make sure you’re willing to relinquish control somewhere.
Once you’ve decided exactly what your strengths and skills are, you’ll be able to find the matching set of skills to complement yours. While conventional wisdom holds true that opposites attract, a great leadership team is built by people with complementary personalities.
An ideal partner is someone who fills the gaps in your skillset and experience. If you both think big, who will focus on the mundane but essential business details? You may have a great time bouncing ideas back and forth over drinks, but it’s very likely those ideas will never leave that cocktail napkin.
This principle doesn’t just apply to personalities but to backgrounds and experiences too. If you are a relative greenhorn to the startup world, consider choosing someone who has had to raise money from investors before or who has the right connections. Or, if you’re a well-connected veteran entrepreneur, look for someone with a fresh perspective who may be able to bring a more unconventional point of view to the table.
Much as they may complement your skillset, the point of a partner is not to confirm your vision, but expand it. Dudley Field Malone, John T. Scopes’s co-counsel during the famous “Monkey Trial,” said it best: “I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me.” When choosing a business partner, you want someone by your side who will constructively challenge your opinions and force you to think through every decision.
Ideal partners are those you have spent time working with in a foxhole work environment, where you can learn about each other’s habits, rituals, and whether–simply put–you can put up with each other. Mimic that environment as much as possible by interacting with a potential partner in as many different situations as you can come up with: work with them on a small project, go to a networking event together, meet each other’s friends, get drunk and brainstorm with each other.
Spend time getting to know someone before making things official. Beyond whether you have complementary skills and contrasting strengths, you need to be able to like and spend time with each other if you’re going to build a business together.
Having a mutual understanding of where the business is going is vital to establish from the get go. It’s important that partners share a single vision, even if their specific immediate goals for the company are different. Does your overall mission match your cofounder’s?
There will be (and should be) plenty of times when you disagree with each other, but if your vision and principles are aligned, you will create an environment where you always end up working together toward the same objectives.
Above all, make sure that you implicitly trust whomever it is you choose. No amount of contrast, compatibility, or shared visions can trump trusting someone to be with you in the trenches during the tough and challenging times. Starting a business is no easy task, and the startup world can be cutthroat–you need to have someone whose integrity you can rely on.
To a large extent, knowing whether you can trust someone will be based on your gut feeling. If you can, however, devise your own internal test for knowing if someone is trustworthy as early as possible. Remember too, that trust is a two way street, and the attitude of giving a full commitment to a partnership will usually result in getting the same commitment in return. It’s that very commitment that has kept Warren Buffet and his vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Munger, working together for more than 30 years.
Choosing a cofounder is one of the most important decisions when starting a business. This process doesn’t happen overnight and it takes a lot of time and energy to find the “right person.” Just like a marriage, a business partnership takes time, trust, and commitment to build, but choosing someone who shares your vision and enthusiasm, brings expertise in the areas in which you are inexperienced, and complements your strengths and weaknesses can give you the best chance of success.
—Nadav Shoval is the CEO and cofounder of Spot.IM. Nadav is a serial entrepreneur and has been working on building startups since the age of 11. Spot.IM is his fifth venture.