Looking for a co-founder to help get your business off the ground? Chris Hulatt suggests ditching the standard job interview questions and getting personal.
Reading the stories of how famous co-founders met can be like hearing about those married couples who met in school or university. Fate often plays a role in pairing people together. The co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s bonded in gym class. Bill Gates met the future co-founder of Microsoft when they were both still in school.
It was Paul Allen who convinced Bill Gates to drop out of college and to co-found Microsoft. Larry Page met Sergey Brin while they were in college. Page thought Brin was “pretty obnoxious” when they first met, but they put their initial differences behind them to co-found Google.
Clearly some of the most successful business partnerships had an almost charmed quality about them from the outset. But like any relationship, the truth is probably far more complicated than the legend. These relationships lasted because the pairings were a great combination.
These co-founders built on each other’s ideas, they worked hard to prove their doubters wrong, and they stuck together even when times were difficult.
If fate didn’t deliver your perfect co-founder straight to your doorstep, you might have to do some of the hard work and find them yourself. That could mean interviewing lots of people to find out whether they have what it takes to help you set up and build a business together.
So, if you’re looking for a co-founder, you might want to think about approaching your co-founder search the same way you would as trying to find a life partner.
After all, if the best personal relationships are built on chemistry, why should a co-founder relationship be any different?
Why is compatibility important in a co-founder?
You don’t want the search for a co-founder to feel like any old job interview. This person could end up becoming the most important relationship in your life, so personality counts. But remember, you’re looking for the characteristics that will help you to build a successful business relationship.
Work out what’s important to you
Any co-founder you choose needs to bring a number of entrepreneurial qualities to the table. But just like with the world of dating, only you can decide the personal attributes that are most important to you.
You may be looking for a co-founder who offers an added dimension in skills such as salesmanship, interpersonal skills, problem-solving or creativity.
And there are other important character traits to consider. They will need to have good interpersonal skills. They will need to be resilient, and hopefully calm under pressure.
And you will probably want them to have a strong work ethic (after all, every start-up business needs co-founders who are willing to put in extra-long hours).
But perhaps above all else, you want to find out if whether they are trustworthy.
Find out what’s important to them
Building a business is a marathon rather than a sprint. Inevitably there will be times when the outlook for the business is less than certain.
Before those times arrive, you’ll be better off knowing your co-founder’s pressure points, and whether you can count on them to stay strong and work with you to get through the difficult times.
Do they have a young family to look after? What other business interests have they got? Are they prepared to commit to working 60-hour weeks? Are they more interested in becoming rich and famous than running a company?
Finally, it’s worth remembering that when it comes to running a business, diversity of thought is no bad thing. Choosing a co-founder who thinks the same way you do could stifle the growth of the business, or lead to poor decision-making over the longer term.
So, when you’re talking to someone about your start-up ideas, don’t just pick the person who agrees with everything you say.
Compatibility is key
So, taking all of that onboard, here are some useful questions to ask a potential co-founder. These are all designed to get below the surface and get to know the person you’ll be spending most of your time with as you build the business together.
- What did you want to be when you were growing up?
- What motivates you?
- What’s your best quality? And what’s your worst?
- Tell me one thing about yourself that your mother doesn’t know…
- What was the last book you read?
- How do you deal with stress?
- When was the last time you failed at something?
- Tell me the last new thing you learned…
- What does your desk look like?
- And finally, what is it that you’re looking for out of this co-founder relationship?
This last question could be the real deal-breaker. It’s really important to find a co-founder who instinctively shares your values, and has similar long-term objectives. But there’s one final question that you need to ask yourself: can you see a future together? To work this one out, you’ll need to trust your instincts.
The beginning of any relationship requires a leap of faith and, as you both get to know each other, taking a risk. But I can tell you from experience that it’s definitely worth it, because trusting your instincts and taking a risk is precisely what makes building a business from the ground-up so exciting.