Let’s get right to the point – building a successful business is one of the hardest things a person can do in their lifetime. We all know this, especially if you have experienced it firsthand. With that in mind, one of the first things a founder can do to increase their chances of long-term success is to find a co-founder (or three).
At my raw fruit sports drink company Amara, I spent the first year as the sole employee, toiling through R&D, developing business partnerships and finding our first customers. After that year it became blatantly apparent that if the company was going to make it, I was going to need a lot of help.
With that in mind I set about solving my co-founder shortage the same way I solve problems: by deconstructing it. Here are the three steps I took:
1. Determine what type of co-founder you need. Set aside time to do a deep self-assessment -- both on a technical and an emotional level. What strengths do you bring to the table and what gaps does your one-person team have in it that need to be filled.
By himself, Steve Wozniak would have never started a company if he hadn’t been convinced to by Steve Jobs. Their roles as co-founders are clear to us now, so determine your role. Are you the design expert, the salesman, the marketing maven or the fearless leader?
After you have done it yourself, ask someone who you genuinely trust to give you candid feedback on your strengths and weaknesses to gain added perspective.
2. Set the stage. I found it easier to discuss my business with potential co-founders after I had already gotten the baseline of the company up and running. I hear people every day talk about a great idea they have but to quote Gary Vaynerchuk, “Ideas aren’t sexy, it’s the execution that’s sexy.” Nothing shows your commitment to the business to a potential co-founder like going it alone in the beginning. Getting started will also help expose additional areas you need to fill on the team.
Related: How to Find the Perfect Co-Founder
Along with getting started, create a rough outline of how much equity you are willing to give away. It’s silly to draft legal documents at an extremely early stage, but it’s also a disaster waiting to happen if you don’t set proper expectations going into the partnership.
3. Date first, then get married. Many of you have heard the turn of phrase, "co-founding a company is like getting married." Would you get married after a few weeks worth of meetings, or even a few months?
Many people may be successfull finding a co-founder at a networking event or on a matching website -- I did not. I had difficulty vetting a person’s track record based on just a few interactions and some web searches. Instead I decided to hire two potential co-founders at the same time and one of them, Joe Siler, turned out to be the best thing I have done yet for the company. Many of his strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa. By interviewing him as a job applicant for a role I needed to fill, I was able to dive much deeper into his qualifications. Once I had seen him in action for about six months I set up a vesting schedule for his shares in the company and bumped him and his responsibility level up to co-founder. The other co-founder was a previous entrepreneur himself and while on paper he looked amazing, he was a disaster for the company culture. If I hadn’t "dated" them before we got married, it could have ended in an ugly divorce.
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