Filip Maertens

Finding your ideal co-founder, is something that I value to have a greater importance than your product, your market or investors. The ideal founding team would be two people, that know each other by working together for at least a few years, respect each other, and complement each other. Ideally, one knows how to build the product and the other knows how to sell it. However, it seems to me, that finding your ideal co-founder is often a struggle.

One of the first questions, you need to ask yourself is, is a co-founder really necessary?  I think it is. First of all, you’re not humanly capable of doing everything yourself (and you won’t have the money to spend on personnel). Second, investors consider one-man startups too high risk. Third, it is “easier” to keep your morales high when you can share the heavy load of a startup. As a side-effect, the energy between two co-founders heavily radiates to investors, partners, employees and customers!

Refrain from starting with too many co-founders. Rarely, you see founding teams larger than five.  Two, maximum three, is a good number. Anything above will result in arguing, misaligned intentions, and will drain your energy while it takes away your focus from your tech and product building.

First make out, then marry him (or her). Sharing your idea with someone, and seeing someone else becoming genuinely enthusiast about it is a very powerful emotion. It might very well trigger into believing you have just met your soulmate, and ideal co-founder. Most of the times, you will be wrong, just as if you would be wrong by talking marriage after your first date. Take your time. Test the waters. Then, talk about co-foundership.

Founders and co-founders need to complement each other. Seems like a logical thing, right? You need one that can actually build the product, and another one that can sell it. That’s it. All too often, I see too many sellers. If you, as a founder, know how to sell, seek a builder. And if you’re a builder, seek a seller. Don’t go and seek a copy of yourself. You’ll fail.

The founding team’s intentions need to be aligned. I’ve had co-founders that just wanted to make a cool product, while I wanted to make money. I’ve also had one that just wanted to be part of the experience. All relationships failed if intentions are not aligned. Pay very close attention to talks that start with “my intention is to…” , as they are most often b.s. statements. In time, you’ll learn about one’s true intentions , as they are revealed, not self-declared. I like to use the “trust, but verify” principle, drag someone in a zero-sum game or stage a prisoner’s-dilemma to know who’s who…

You will want your co-founder to have intelligence, energy and integrity. He/she must be the sharpest knife in the box, and your co-founder must have a high-energy personality. If these values will become the extension of your company’s culture, the founding team should be able to naturally demonstrate these on a daily basis.

Pick an honest and nice co-founder. Be wary of rational thinkers, and specifically the “sales guys”.  They can both kill your passion and your company. If your co-founder looks upon your company as a way to boost his/her career, or gain a good earning or interest on dividends, then continue looking for a better one. Passion is a driver. Not money. Profit is a byproduct of a passionate company.

Sidenote: Did you notice, how similar it is to look for your co-founder as it is to dating? It takes a while, and you’ll will have bad and good dates, but you’ll find your soulmate and if you do, teaming up for marriage will be a natural thing. And sometimes, maybe, and old friend becomes your partner for life.

Any other experiences, hints or tips for founders and co-founders ?  Leave a comment and share !

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