Selecting the Right Co-Founders for your Startup Venture.

Chirath Hettiarachchi
Jan 11 · 5 min read

You might have a brilliant startup idea, or you may still be brainstorming for the next big product / service which you envision to build. Although how cool your idea is and how competent you are, in order to make your idea a reality you need to have a perfect team to support you along this tedious journey.

You can build your dream team for the startup by searching for the right talent, passion, holding interviews, through referral etc. But here we are focusing on the core team or rather the Co-Founders of the startup. This bunch is going to be the driving force. But in case you are unable to find the correct mix, it could well be a damping factor. Thus, the importance of allocating more effort and time for this decision, similarly to brainstorming for ideas.

Here I would like to summarize some of the key elements which I have observed and experienced within startups. Hope this would be kind of a guideline to simplify the thought process towards the decision of selecting your Co-Founders.

1. Passion, Drive & Motivation

The most importance characteristic is to find whether your potential Co-Founder or Founders possess the passion towards building their own companies, and have that innate drive to full fill their dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. It would be nice to have a chat and understand what really motivated the person to build a startup. The motivating factors could vary with different thinking patterns. Some may yearn to build their own products, challenge the status quo of working in conventional companies, and might even be motivated by the big money.

Evaluating the passion and understanding the motivation behind that person to be in a startup is thus really important. You should beware of the types who are just looking to be part of a startup, since it sounds cool, as a hobby to pass time.

Also analyzing most startups, you start in College or University there are many people who would just join to make their resume more attractive since their ultimate objective actually is to work for another company!! not start his/her own.

2. Vision & Principles

Yes, you found the correct person with the actually passion for a startup, but does your Vision & Principles align. Some want to build products, some services. Some want to do revolutionary products, others want to stick to conventional methods. All of these are their own preferences. But this is really important!!! Inability to match the correct vision would lead to a deadlock and frustration.

Also, what are the principles of that person, and are they align with your startup idea. These principles could be ethical, religious or even something personal. For an example you want to build an innovative product around marketing, but your Co-Founder finds marketing as a way of deceiving customers & inappropriate. For some this example may sound absurd. But trust me I have experienced far peculiar principles that people have which could impact a startup.

3. Attitude & Personality

Everything is set, and he/she looks like the perfect match. But hold on, this person would be around you 80hrs a week, through the tough times and the worst times! So is this person easy to work with, what type of a personality does the person possess. What sort of an attitude does he / she possess?

Practically it’s hard to find an ideal person. But rather, should focus on someone who you can work with. The stress and pressure of a startup would test both / all of you, and its perfect ok to have heated arguments. But the important thing is whether everything can be negotiated and decisions could be taken collaboratively to move forward as a company.

Most Co-Founders leave because they are unheard, their ideas, thoughts and feedback are neglected. This could result when there is a personality mis match, when there are extreme personalities and attitudes.

4. Role & Contribution

You should be looking for a core skill set in a Co-Founder. How will the person add value to the Startup? If both of you are adding the same value, or in the same background maybe the impact would be low and conflicts may be high in some cases.

I have observed startups thriving who have a Co-Founders from multiple domains and expertise. For an example when there is a Marketeer in midst of Engineers higher the possibility of actually building a better product with better sales. All the diverse set of ideas from different domains matter, and would be respectful to hear out all the ideas.

Here the problem could also arise what is the optimal number of Co-Founders? Which I think might depend on different settings. Here I have observed large teams with 4,5 Founders getting more work done compared to some teams with around 2 who are struggling. I do not wish to evaluate this question in this article.

Once you choose the perfect partner, then you must be clear on the roles that person is in charge of, their targets. This is really important because you don’t want a Founder who is idling while you do all the hard work. Hence there should be a clearly set of objectives and a timeline, and even possible penalties if the person does not adhere. No one wants to keep a free rider in a team!!!

5. Documentation & Comprehension

Startups are awesome when all the Co-Founders are friends. But this is also another red flag. Friends think they don’t require proper documentation, but once the problem arises usually people start with “I thought”, and it turns out that different people have had different perceptions. Thus, the importance of proper comprehension and documentation, to avoid any unnecessary conflicts & miscommunications. (It would be best to obtain proper legal advice on this aspect.)

6. Exit Strategy

No matter how rigid you stick to a guideline when you are in searching for a Co-Founder, in reality there will be different issues arising and it is perfectly ok for someone to leave. If there is a proper exit strategy this would be easy and smooth. Some may exit since they no longer believe in the idea, maybe they are presented with a greater opportunity elsewhere etc. Hence the importance of having a proper exit strategy and evaluating this option of your Co-Founder leaving, and how it would affect your dream startup. You should have proper measures in place in order to ensure that even though one-person leaves, the Startup has a succession plan to go forward.

Usually in my experience in most early stage startups with a small team, the departure of a key Founder disrupts the startup, thus the more importance on focusing on an exiting strategy.

In conclusion the list seems lengthy and challenging to find the perfect person. But it is always good to have a set of guidelines to think through to find a perfect mix of people to collectively achieve your dreams and make your startup a reality. Please feel free to add your comments on aspects which I have missed, which we could combine to enhance this thinking thought process / guideline. All the very best in your startup journey.