When it comes to business, two heads are better than one. Your chances of success will be greatly improved with a cofounder who has specific traits that help drive the business and that integrate well with your own vision, skills and goals.
I found my cofounder John Rampton by reaching out on Twitter and asking for advice. The relationship grew to a friendship and then to a business partnership. We had a company called Pixloo that sold for more than eight figures, and now we own Hostt, one of the strongest free hosting companies in the world. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my co-founder.
In my experience, there are specific qualities that co-founders must have in order to make them right for the role. If you’re looking to form a partnership, here is what you should look for in your potential cofounder:
1. Look for a team player.
Find a team player who is willing to take the lead but also knows when to roll up his sleeves. A great leader knows that he is only as good as those on his team. He also understands that it pays to surround himself with smart people and let them put their strengths and individual traits to work.
2. Find someone who motivates you (and vice versa).
If you don’t feel more motivated after talking with your potential co-founder, he or she may not be the right person for you to work with. When I started working with my coworker, he fanned the flames of what I already felt and it motivated me to pursue the venture all the more.
There will be challenges that dampen the passion — the honeymoon period will end — but co-founders need to understand their effect on each other because this can serve as the necessary spark to push each other forward. When you’re not feeling your best (and vice versa), will this person be able to take the reins, help you shift your focus, or simply offer encouragement? Either way, the result needs to be that the business stays alive and the momentum among your team continues.
3. Seek people who are comfortable with conflict.
A great co-founder must be okay with arguments, disagreements and a dash of conflict. I can have heated discussions about issues in our company and maintain the utmost respect for my cofounder. We never make it personal because that would do nothing but drive a wedge between us. Instead, a co-founder must fight fair and focus on hammering out the issues at hand. They have to be comfortable being the person who speaks up when they sense there is a problem, and do so in a way that is constructive.
The other benefit of being comfortable with conflict is that it helps to create a work culture that encourages growth through change. Our team has witnessed our disagreements and understands we welcome their feedback.
4. Trustworthiness is key.
Starting a business is a huge investment and you don’t want to lose it because you chose a partner who isn’t honest. I had worked with my co-founder previously on other projects and knew him through a shared network of colleagues. We trust each other to carry out our responsibilities in our business and know we each always have the company’s best interest in mind. This allows us to focus on the business rather than micromanaging.
5. You need someone who’s driven, not just excited.
I work like a maniac because I’m driven to get what I want. I wanted a co-founder who understood this and had a similar way of working. You don’t want someone who just cheers from the sidelines but instead works at a similar pace as you.
Steven Le Vine discussed the difference between a driven and excited partner on BusinessCollective, which I believe best illustrates what a cofounder should offer: “All too often, one founder thinks that because his partner is excited about the new business venture, he is also going to do a good job in the future. But the excitement usually is a result of the ‘honeymoon period,’ and once it wears off, if he is not committed to building the business and seeing it through, the other partner tends to be the one driving the company while the other sits back and enjoys the fruits of his labor.”
6. Self-awareness is critical.
Last, a co-founder must be able to know themselves and communicate that to their partner. Talk about your strengths and weaknesses. It’s okay to tell your partner where you think you are lacking and how you plan to improve. By being vulnerable, you will also develop even more trust in each other.
Like any great relationship, a co-founder relationship must continue to evolve in order to face new challenges and opportunities. That willingness to continue to improve, keep strong lines of communication open, and stay focused on goals will maximize the benefit of having a partner rather than going at it alone. While it doesn’t mean you and your co-founder will always work together, a strong foundation means you have the framework for success.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.