Choose Wisely! Business relations can be worse than marriage!
Choosing your Co-Founder is not an easy task. And co-founders drama is between the top 10 reasons why a startup fails. In many books, mentors will tell you about complementarity knowledge – you know the mantra, one business person, one technical, the designer, etc. But, if it was only that, it would be an easy task to set up a startup. But, it is much more, because a startup is not only about the product. The product is constructed by people, who need to share common visions and values. And be able to act together. And here come many failures, because nobody teaches you how to choose.
Anybody who sets up a business knows that being an entrepreneur means that you are on a constant roller coaster. And sometimes on the same day. It can happen that you wake up gloriously because you have to sign a B2B sales contract. Then at 12.00, you got a call that the board put it on hold. You start panicking because cash flow will not look good. Till 15.00 your life is a nightmare. At 15.00 you got an unexpected call for a surprise contract, that you didn’t even give a sh*t. Happiness and drinks for the whole team. Only to realize at 21.00 that a huge invoice has to be paid, and the numbers do not match again. And then a miracle happens in the morning.
So, on the whole this situation comes from your co-founders – their knowledge, their expertise, but also their emotional support and friendship, their expertise in running a business, being familiar with these fluctuations – or if you are first-timers the patience, stubbornness to learn. Besides complementary knowledge you need to have with your co-founders, you need so much more than this! Maybe that is why many investors are so curious about how long you have been working together. You need also to share common values, to be able to manage stressful situations and events, to be able to talk openly, to fight openly, to admit your mistake, to be able to criticize constructively, and so on.
So, how do you choose your cofounder? Sometimes it is funny, but love advice might apply also in business.
- Look at the past. And more importantly how it relates to the past.
As in any relationship, former relationships matter! A lot! We are the sum of our past experiences. So, ask about former co-founder experience – how it went, why it did not function. Look if the partner has a critical view on that, if s/he is a constant-blamer of the other, or if s/he critically reflected on what happened, what went wrong, and learned something out of it! It doesn’t matter how bad former partners treated you, you do have at least a part of the mistake, even if it is a small percentage and even if that you did not recognize those red-flags that were there in telling you “not truthful” or “not whatever”!
Avoid blamers! When things get hard, they will tend to do the same thing to you!
Avoid non-learners! A startup is about how to fail quickly and how to learn from it. You need people with capacities to learn and move on.
- Business friends.
Like in a relationship, you want to meet his/her friends, right? We know better people when we know their social network. Who is your best friend, tells more about who you are! Who is your best business partners, tell more about who you are as an entrepreneur. And also, how you socialize with them. So, before, striking a deal, some cocktails/wine/beer at networking events would be a nice-to-discover. Is this circle of friends and preferences the kind of circle you imagine your business? I mean if you want to build a premium product of cosmetics, a network of fast-food owners, not very helpful…
- Is s/he a businessizer?
I mean if he set up 6 relationships in 2 years, well… You should question his faithfulness – because you will need it a lot to keep business secrets! Or his (in)capacity to choose partners, either to quickly or lack of intuition or…. But, you will need beside you someone you could trust with your entire financials and visions. And you will need someone you could trust that has the ball and intuition to say no when necessary, to smell with whom you should partner, so on.
So, choose your co-founder(s) wisely! Because you will spend as much time with them,as in a marriage. If not more. You will have all the ups and downs. You will face competitors. You will share laughter and tears. And you will have to be able to fight about sensitive topics such as money. You need to be able to find the right person – with the right set of knowledge and a type of personality that you can live with. Hopefully in the long-term!