How to build a strong co-founding team

It all starts with people. The relationships underlying your company can make or break your startup's success. Finding co-founders with a complementary skill set is important—but it’s not the only thing founders need to look for to build a winning team.

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Antler

The investor backing the world's most driven founders, from day zero to greatness. Enabling thousands of founders every year to launch and scale companies that move the world forward.

In 2023, we were proud to made our 1,000th investment in companies originating from Antler residencies around the world. Our work with all of these teams prior to and at the point of investment has yielded specific insights into what makes a great co-founding team.

First, let’s bust the myth of the solo entrepreneur. It’s exciting and captivating to think of an Atlas-like founder, holding the weight of disrupting an industry on their shoulders. But in reality, solo founders encounter multiple issues and challenges, including:

  • Significant key person risk to the company.
  • The question of why no one else will join their mission.
  • Not enough hours per day to execute at the pace required for success, even if the founder has the breadth of skills needed (what we believe would be unlikely).
  • The need so outsource skill gaps, which is costly and reduces runway, contributing to a loss of IP and/or control.

Co-founding team size

For these reasons, Antler backs complementary, non-overlapping teams. This means two or three founders who can own functions of the business mapping to their areas of expertise. We believe this requires a combination of at least two or all of the following profiles:

  • Commercial founder: Past experiences in bringing new products to market, and responsible for ensuring successful commercial outcomes for the business.
  • Technical founder: Experience in leading technical teams, proven hands-on experience building and scaling products.
  • Domain founder: Deep expertise and experience in a particular field, whether that be in research, industry, or type of company. 

Read more about these founder profiles and what individual qualities founders need to succeed.

Co-founding teams with this combination of founder profiles gives the team the breadth to execute at speed with clear ownership and decision-making ability. It also reduces the need to outsource costly areas of the business.

Teams with two or three co-founders also have higher growth rate metrics. According to First Round’s 10-Year Project, teams of two-to-three people secure 30% more investment, achieve a 3x higher customer growth rate, have 25% higher seed valuations, and perform 163% better than solo founders.

Co-founding teams of two or three people are also more likely to become unicorns.

Number of co-founders in 195 successful startups

Source: Ali Tamaseb, data from 195 unicorns founded after 2005.

It's crucial that these co-founders complement each other's ambition, skill, and experience. When you consider the reasons why startups fail, 23% of the time it’s because it had the wrong team behind it.

Sam Altman, former President of Y Combinator, agrees. He once said: “In YC’s case, the number one cause of early death for startups is co-founder blowups. A lot of people treat choosing their co-founder with even less importance than they put on hiring. Don’t do this.”

The co-founder relationship needs to last for five to 10 years. You need to choose your co-founder wisely. So, where do you start?

Qualities of exceptional co-founding teams

A great co-founding team is complementary with differentiation. We believe success lies in the team’s diversity of personality and thought as it leads to breadth in creativity, decision-making, and business outcomes. 

There are three critical areas where you ought to align:

  • Goals: Make sure you share the same long-term goals for the company. If your goal is to be acquired within a year or to become a unicorn, everyone should be on the same page about it.
  • Values: Make sure you hold the same values. If you all value communication, trustworthiness, and work ethic, you’re setting your startup business up to be stronger. When difficulties arise, as they will, your shared values are what will keep you grounded and moving in the same direction.
  • Chemistry: Make sure you have good chemistry. Can you spend a lot of time—100-plus hours per week—with that person or those people? Do you like them? This is a professional and intimate relationship where you are co-creating a vision. It's important to enjoy spending time with them.

Know who you are—and what you need 

As you embark on this journey, you also need to understand your own strengths and weaknesses. Some simple exercises you can do to start this process include:

About you

  • Know who you are and what you want to achieve.
  • Know your personal motivations, needs, and vision.  
  • Prepare for strategic compromise. Identify areas for compromise to set up the business for success. 

Skills and value matching

  • Write down a clear description of your ideal co-founder.
  • Match based on your personality, vision, and values (consider hard skills too).

Network

  • You will have greater success in connecting with suitable co-founder/s if you are proactive.

In some Antler locations, we get our founders to answer an in-depth 50-question founder questionnaire and encourage them to use platforms like F4S to identify these values at a nuanced level, then use them to help them find their ideal co-founder.

How do you find co-founders?

Now you know what you should be looking for but, where do you actually find these co-founders? We recommend looking outside your immediate circle when looking to build a strong co-founding team. In our experience, a consistent key marker of building a successful co-founder team is diversity. And the reality is, you probably surround yourself with people a lot like you. 

Think about places and events that attract entrepreneurial and curious people. One of the most effective ways to find a co-founder is to join an Antler residency, but in most major cities across the world there are an abundance of networking events, meetups, and hackathons that can help you begin the process. There are also numerous online platforms, forums, and groups that can help your search.

There’s much to consider when searching for, choosing, and eliminating potential co-founders. Be rigorous and unfaltering in checking off the following list to build a strong co-founding team:

  • Complementary and complete skill sets.
  • An unfair advantage through knowledge, network, or skills. 
  • Alignment to the industry and/or business model Individual strength of team members.
  • Team’s ability to execute fast. 
  • Ambition to build a big company and aligment on vision. 
  • Chemistry and ability to creatively problem-solve together under pressure.

The relationships underlying your company are pivotal. Remember: putting the time and effort into finding the best co-founder fit can make or break your startup's success.

The most driven founders are joining Antler—the world's day zero investor—to solve important problems. Apply to one of our residencies in 27 cities around the world.

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