It only takes one person come up with a great startup idea, but in my experience as an investor, it is a rare entrepreneur who has all the skills and resources to build a business as well as a solution. Yet, I meet inventors and startup founders every week who balk at the thought of sharing the founder position. In my view, it is a key reason that 90 percent of startups fail to launch.
It is fine for one to be the visible head of the company, but if you look at recent great successes of recent times, almost always there is a partner behind the scenes who was key to making the right things happen. For example, Apple was initially built by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, PayPal by Peter Thiel and Max Levchin and Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg and 4 roommates.
Sometimes it is just serendipity that brings the right players together, but more often it takes real effort, just like finding that perfect life relationship partner. I do not have any magic formula for making it happen, but I do recommend 8 key steps which definitely will improve your results:
1. Look for people with complimentary skills and experiences. It may seem like a perfect match to find someone who thinks like you, but these do not broaden your perspective and generally lead to disagreement on details. Inventors and engineers need business people, and creative types need a logical perspective to balance their dreams.
2. Consider relocating to a more startup-friendly environment. Face reality. If you are having trouble finding partners and team members near you, you will likely also struggle to find investors and advisors. It is easier to move before you have big local investments and people dependencies. Now is the time to set priorities on lifestyle and act on them.
3. Expand your scope beyond friends and family. The best way to start is business networking through local groups and online forums. It is always valuable to build relationships with other startup founders, as well as startup advisors and investors. Make an honest list of what skills and experience you really need to build the strongest team.
4. Do online research on crowdfunding and partner dating sites. The challenge is to find people with your interests, but complimentary skills. Remote partners and teams are very common today, so do not be afraid to contact others, including competitors. Examples of co-founder dating sites include Build It With Me, CoFoundersLab and Founder2be.
5. Look into other business areas and other cultures. Often times, the help you need is outside your familiar domain, and more into marketing, distribution or manufacturing. It may be outside your country, in a different culture or environment. Many entrepreneurs outside the US would love to partner with someone here, and bring much to the table.
6. Do not underestimate the value of experience and connections. Every first-time entrepreneur should find a co-founder who has built a startup before. Beyond that, connections to investors, suppliers, distributors and major potential customers are almost always more valuable that technical or business organization skills.
7. Test potential partner compatibility outside of the office. Startup co-founder relationships have to survive severe stress, disagreements and changes in direction. Take your time in getting to know a potential partner on a personal and emotional level, as well as a business and technical level. Co-founder implies a long-term relationship.
8. Negotiate and document task assignments and titles. Although you may have a clear view of your co-founder responsibilities, it probably does not match your partner’s view. A simple partner agreement, signed by both parties and updated every 6 months, will prevent future breakdowns and lawsuits that have destroyed many promising startups.
Finding the right partner or partners is one of the most challenging, yet critical, tasks of a new entrepreneur. Do not let your ego, procrastination or greed get in the way of getting your startup of to the strongest possible start. Make it the beginning of a satisfying lifestyle and many startups together, rather than a frustrating and disappointing end to your dream.
Image credit: CC by The Elite Ayrshire Business Circle