Starting a company is hard. For most people, starting a company is probably the hardest thing they will do in their entire lives. And, as much as we think about Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg starting the companies that made them into billionaires, they had cofounders and founding teams around them every step of the way.
There is a common myth of the “solopreneurs” but in reality, most companies start with more than one founder. And yet, according to research cited in Noam Wasserman’s The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink A Startup, 60-65 percent of startup companies failed due to issues within the startup management team.
How can you find the help you need from a reliable cofounder or cofounding team that can help you maximize your chance for success?
Here are five simple ways you can identify and find the right group of people for you and your startup company.
1. Determine Who You Need
Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak. Bill Gates had Paul Allen. Warren Buffet had Charlie Munger. These founders found the people they needed to maximize their success. But how can you find your Woz?
Some of the best marriage advice I received came from my wife’s great aunt. Aunt Margie told me, “Don’t marry the person you can live with, marry the person you can’t live without.” That’s what you’re looking for, your complement, not your copy.
Determining who you really need to make your startup go is perhaps the most important step in the process. This requires self-awareness. You need to understand what your strengths are first so you can know the gaps you need to fill. I’d highly recommend a Working Genius assessment as a good place to start.
Then, go find someone who complements your skill set, not a copy of your expertise. If you’re an introvert, find an extrovert. If you’re a coder/developer/technology person, go find a sales/marketing/hype person. This can also be a great way to introduce diversity into your startup.
I once saw an amazing technical founder pitch for investment. When he was asked what he would spend the money on, he answered, “I don’t know, probably to hire another developer or two.”
This founder needed someone to fill in the gaps of skills he didn’t possess like sales, marketing, finance, operations, etc. Find a cofounder for what you are missing, not for what you already are.
Finding a cofounder or cofounding team probably involves someone that is not currently in your network. You need to tap into other groups of people that can help you find the right person(s) you are looking for to get your startup off the ground.
Start with those that are closest to you. Ask your family, friends, neighbors, classmates, etc. for people that they know who fit the profile of the people you are looking to find.
Social media can be beneficial in a situation like this. I once started an accelerator program with Techstars based on a single tweet. It can happen. Leverage the accounts where you think your target people hang out.
Finally, make it a point to hang out where your target cofounders hang out. If you want to open a coffee shop, hang out at coffee shops. If you are looking for a coder or developer, join meetups or events where these kinds of people hang out. Eventbrite and Meetup can be great resources to find people like this.
3. Think of It Like a Marriage
Building a startup together is like getting married. You are committing to something for the long-term and you should plan accordingly.
Most people don’t marry someone after the first date. Give it some time and really get to know the person or people you are going to start a company with.
A marriage requires trust. Trust is so important in a startup and trust is built over time. Don’t make spontaneous or rash decisions. Move slowly in this phase. There will be plenty of time to move quickly once the company takes off.
4. Do You Want to be King, or Do You Want to be Rich?
One of the fundamental findings of Wasserman’s Founder’s Dilemmas was that most founders had to decide if they wanted to be king or if they wanted to be rich. Though we know the stories of Zuckerberg, Musk, Gates and Bezos, the norm is that you typically can’t have both.
The founders of Instagram, YouTube, Pill Pack and many others decided they wanted to be rich and took the money early on. Other founders have tried to be king and gain power and control of their startup “baby.” Neither of these options is necessarily right or wrong, but it is an important thing to think about as you find those for your founding team.
Some people want to cure a disease or change the world. Some people just want to be wealthy. The motivations for these desired outcomes are very different, so be sure you know what your goals are before you seek out your cofounder(s).
5. Don’t Wait Too Long to Have Tough Conversations
One of the hardest things in the early stage of a startup is making basic decisions about the future. Where is the company going to be located? Who is in charge of what? What kind of capital are we going to raise (if any) and who should we raise it from? Who is going to own what percentage of the company?
These are difficult discussions that only get tougher as you get further down the road. Have tough discussions early on and use them as a mechanism to learn more about potential cofounder candidates. These can be great screening tools to see if they are a good fit.
In the end, trust your gut. That is usually the best indicator for who you should launch a company with. And not just your gut – ask trusted friends and family for their gut impressions too. They can provide great feedback that sometimes you just can’t always see.