Do I Really Need a Co-Founder?

By Ethan Adams

You have a business idea. Do you really need a co-founder to make it successful?

The answer: No. Well, maybe.

First of all, a co-founder is different than a team member. Team members can be working with you from the beginning, can share in decision-making processes, and might even hold some equity in your developing company. They can provide you with tactical and strategic help without jeopardizing your leadership (or ownership) in the company. A co-founder, however, is someone who shares equal or near-equal authority, ownership, and risk in the company as you, and therefore also shares credit for whatever successes and failures may come.

Having a co-founder is by no means a prerequisite to be a successful entrepreneur. There are countless examples of ambitious entrepreneurs who have struck out on their own and succeeded (eBay, Alibaba, Tumblr, and RetailMeNot are among them).

However, venturing out on your own can be daunting. There will be decisions to make, questions to answer, and obstacles to overcome that all would undoubtedly be easier with someone to share the opinion (and the risk).

If you’re struggling with the question of whether to add a co-founding member to your company or not, here are a few things to consider.

YOU MIGHT WANT TO BRING ON A CO-FOUNDER IF:

Your skills and abilities fall short of the core operations of your business.

Example: You’re building an app, but don’t have any coding or app-building experience.

You are unable to operate your business by yourself.

You might have started out on your own, but found certain essential tasks (like marketing, fundraising, or product development) too large to take the idea to market alone.

You’re short on startup capital and can’t afford to pay someone for their work.

In this case, the title of “co-founder” and a handsome stake of equity can sometimes entice highly desirable candidates to work for little to nothing before you can pay cash.

You have a specific role for them to fill within your company.

Think about the normal roles of co-founders: Chief Technology Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, etc.

You have a clear and promising vision for where the company is going.

In other words, you’re 110% committed to the business and can derive a clear ROI over the next few years for adding a co-founder

You are prepared to make sacrifices.

Introducing another human being into your business requires that you relinquish some pride for the sake of a healthy team. Any future success is everyone’s success, and future failure is everyone’s failure.

YOU MIGHT NOT NEED A CO-FOUNDER IF:

Your skills and abilities cover the core operations of the business.

Example: You’re selling a product that you design and produce yourself.

You’ve successfully operated a business by yourself in the past.

In other words, you have proven that you are capable without a co-founder. In this case, you might consider adding team members who can take responsibility for smaller tasks so you can focus on scaling the business. This will help you retain as much equity and authority as possible.

You have enough startup capital and can afford to pay someone for their work.

Everyone loves immediate gratification (AKA cash). Why split your equity–and your share of the glory–in the company when you can get a highly desirable candidate to work for cash?

You don’t have a specific role for them to fill within your company.

Adding a co-founder simply for emotional support probably isn’t the best idea.

You don’t yet have a clear vision/strategy of where your company is going.

In other words, you’re not yet certain that your idea will last, or that you’re headed the right direction, etc. Adding a co-founder in this stage will likely add to the confusion and complicate any vision-casting taking place.

You are not yet ready to make some sacrifices.

Adding co-founders means you can’t always do things YOUR way anymore. As the leader, you will need to consider the health of the team and the health of its individual members before yourself. It’s not for everyone.

In summary, you should know that adding co-founders can have serious implications. Many companies have met fateful and messy ends because of co-founder relationships gone bad. Joining forces with a co-founder is a little bit like getting married–just because the future looks exciting doesn’t mean you should rush into things.

On the other hand, co-founders do often become vital members of a team, not only accelerating the progress of a startup, but adding unique value and personality that only they can contribute. Many of today’s most notable companies are the result of strong co-founder relationships.

If you’re convinced that you’re ready, maybe try some co-founder “dating” before you drop to one knee and propose.

Ethan Adams is Manager of Startup Development at Future Founders.

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