Thoughts on startups by investors that
fund them & entrepreneurs that run them

For a Startup, Two Heads are Always Better Than One

If you are a first-time entrepreneur, I recommend that you team with a co-founder with experiences, connections, and a skill set that complements, but doesn’t duplicate yours. Even experienced entrepreneurs need a partner to back up each other and improve fundability. The question is how to find that elusive perfect-fit partner.

First, I will admit there is no magic formula here, just like in real life when trying to find a relationship partner. But from my own experience, and input from others, there are useful approaches that will improve your odds of success:

  1. Define the ideal partner. The most important step is deciding exactly what skills and experience you need to best complement yours. Start with your own judgment, but don’t hesitate to ask for advice from a seasoned investor. Ideal partners here should not include your best friend or a family member.
  2. Start the search with business networking. Actively participate in local business groups and events, like The Indus Entrepreneur (TiE) and entrepreneur forums. Join entrepreneur groups online, like Linkedin “On Startups”, Facebook for Business, and use Twitter to find people with like-minded interests.
  3. Join online “dating” sites for business partners. Believe it or not, there are online websites that are dedicated to just this challenge. Examples include PartnerUp, StartupAgents, and Cofoundr. Don’t forget the wealth of business blogs frequented by entrepreneurs and investors, where you make your interests known.
  4. Use local university connections. Call some professors and students at your local university to see if they know any entrepreneurial students, alums, or professors who might be interested in jointly creating a real company.
  5. Look for diversity in outside activities. Major universities, like Stanford and MIT, are flush with smart people from all cultures, many of whom would bring a whole new energy and creativity to your startup. Certain activities seem to attract the right kind of independent thinkers, like rock climbing and ultimate Frisbee.
  6. Talk to people at work. If you have worked with someone at another company for a couple of years, and realized that your work ethic, goals, and personalities are similar, that person may be a good match. Watch out for non-compete clauses, and conflicts of interest with the current employer.
  7. Move to the right geography. If you live in the middle of nowhere, your chances of finding the right co-founder for your new high-tech startup are poor. Maybe it’s time to consider relocating to one of the hubs for startups, like Silicon Valley, Boston, Seattle, or Austin. As soon as you find the partner, these are the places to find funding as well.
  8. Get to know potential partners before committing. Take your time. Meet personally with potential candidates in both formal and informal environments to check for a match in chemistry as well as interests. Ask every question you can think of, and don’t let emotions get the best of you. Co-founder is a long-term relationship.
  9. Agree on role assignments early. The last thing you need after all this work is partners stepping on your toes. Make sure you all agree on what you know, what you are good at, and what responsibilities are assigned to each. Get this in writing as a standard pre-nuptial.
  10. Hire a lawyer. Especially when dealing with co-founders that haven’t worked together before, meet with a lawyer with all the partners present and tell him what type of company you are starting, who is contributing what, and other relevant information. Get it written down. Later will be too late.

As most founders come to learn, finding the right business partner or co-founder is among the most difficult, yet most important things that new entrepreneurs need to do. Once they find a great partner, most of the ones I know stay with that partner through multiple startups. Of course, if you’re the next Google, you may only need one.

Written by Martin Zwilling

user Martin Zwilling Founder and CEO,
Startup Professionals

Martin is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. He is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners.

prev next

You might also be interested in

From Accelerators to Venture Capital: What is best for your startup?

With startup growth up 61% since 2014 and more investment programs emerging, it can be overwhelming for founders to know just where to jump in. As the most startup-friendly accelerator on the planet, MassChallenge has helped 835 startup companies around the world, who have raised over $1.1 billion in funding and created over 6,500 jobs. We have seen startups at

Read more >

Valuation Part I: Peeling the Onion, or How Top Investors Value the Startups They Invest In

Early-stage technology company valuations are generally a crap-shoot. Bill Payne did a great post about this in October 2011. This post builds on top of his work, and attempts to shed additional light on the valuation process.

New founders may think that startup valuations work like this:

I figure out what the value of my existing company is I figure

Read more >

Starting a startup as CTO / Head of Product

After less than a year, Glassbreakers is now a team of 10, we have thousands of active users on our free product, we’ve expanded into enterprises with paying customers and raised over a million in seed funding. After a few of my Glassbreaker matches inquired, I started to reflect on what it’s like to build a startup

Read more >

Raising Capital As A First Time Founder

A year ago, in mid September 2014, I walked out of a Starbucks in San Francisco with the very first check from an angel investor for Glassbreakers. Though it was only $5,000, it was enough to prove to myself and my co-founder, Lauren Mosenthal, that we could actually fundraise for our startup. We already had 1,000 women signed

Read more >

18 Ways to Make Your Financial Model Stand Out to Investors

The median investor looking at your proposal is in her 40s.  Her eyes are going, not to mention her brain.  I look at a lot of spreadsheets and analytic reports, and way too many are difficult to read and therefore hard to understand.

In an effort to make my life easier, I’ve summarized here the steps that will make it

Read more >

Comments

2 thoughts on “For a Startup, Two Heads are Always Better Than One”

  1. That’s a great list. I’d add in that you should have difficult conversations early. If talking about sticky topics like equity, titles, roles and responsibilities is too much for your relationship to handle, you aren’t a good fit as co-founders. Thanks for the list!

  2. Tim Reha says:

    Choose wisely. It is totally a marriage. Not to be taken lightly.