How to find the perfect co-founder(s) for your startup

Having a strong co-founding team is an important success factor for startups. In fact having the wrong founding team is amongst the top reasons why companies fail, in particular at the earliest stages of building a company. 

Without a strong team, the idea will just stay as that, an idea. However, finding the right co-founder can seem like a long and complicated process. There are many things that entrepreneurs need to take into consideration when making the decision of who to start a company with; starting with what to look for in terms of skillsets, compatibility and personality, followed by where to meet available co-founders, to making sure it will last in the long run. Based on our experience, there are 5 important elements that make a strong co-founding team. But before you start searching for someone, you need to ask yourself some key questions.

Do you need a co-founder?

There is no right or wrong answer here. Many unicorns have been successful with only one founder but in general, a team of 2 or 3 people has the best dynamics necessary to run a company. Imagine how great it is to have someone on your team to share your wins with and have a shoulder to cry on, someone that can complement your strengths and balance out your weaknesses. Founding a company is not a steady journey, it can be a real battle where you need some friendly power which you’re not going to get from your employees. 

Where do I start?

Before you begin the headhunt for a perfect co-founder, you should start with yourself. First of all, find your superpowers - things you are good at and keen on doing. Then, be brutally honest with yourself and confront your weaknesses. When you identify your strengths and weak points, look for an individual who completes you. The ideal co-founder will possess the skills you lack. 

Having the right mindset is absolutely key when looking for a co-founder. Finding a perfect co-founder is all about increasing your luck surface area. Spend as much time as possible with people talking about your ideas. This is when you see whether the person is interested in the same field, whether they can add value to your idea and whether you have the chemistry. 

If you meet someone with whom you see yourself working with, that’s fantastic! But don’t worry, it’s okay to tell them that before you start working together, you want to meet other people and have more in-depth discussions relating your ideas. Remember to be open and transparent in your communication. It’s clear that you want to exploit all the opportunities. Just remember that the heads-up for your potential co-founder is crucial to have a strong and honest foundation of your relationship. 

What to look for in your co-founder?

A popular concept introduced by several notable investors and founders is that an efficient founding team consists of three types of people: a Hipster, a Hacker, and a Hustler (“The 3H”). The Hipster designs the product or service, the Hacker builds it, and the Hustler sells it.

The 3H concept is based on the belief that complementary skill sets in the founding team are critical to effectively build and scale a company. However, it does not mean that you need three people in every co-founding team. For example, some people can be both great “Hustler” and “Hipster”, and others can be a fantastic CTO while also having tremendous sales capabilities.

Why does this matter? We know that the wrong founding team is amongst the top reasons why companies fail. Great talent in itself does not lead to great companies if the team is not right.

We’ve seen hundreds of teams being formed, hundreds of teams breaking up, and also many teams being highly successful. We’ve identified 5 important elements that make a good co-founding team: 

1. Chemistry - an absolute must in a co-founding team. Founders need to be able to see themselves working together for the next 3-10 years. Learn more about the first-hand experience relating chemistry from one of the Antler founders in Sydney.

2. Shared values - it is necessary to agree on the work style, on how to treat your employees, and basically how to run the company.

3. Same vision - it is important to have a very aligned view on where to take the company and find clear ways to align on differences. Even though at the beginning it might be difficult to see an exact vision, it is crucial to talk about it from the very start.

4. Complementary skillsets - it’s good to have different strengths, e.g. the classic tech/business split. But there are multiple ways to think about this. It could also be two techies, one with a front-end spike and one with an infrastructure spike.

5. Complementary personalities - a good team consists of team members who have different personality strengths, e.g. on the MBTI or Big 5 dimensions.

Identifying and assessing these 5 elements might be challenging. This is why being in a program such as Antler is a real asset. Here is a sneak peek of a few insider success stories from the Antler program and why they work well together. 

- Co-founders of Cognicept from Singapore formed a team based on a clear idea brought by one of the founders and complemented one another in terms of skills and personalities. 

- Co-founders of Capture from Singapore had unique chemistry and the same vision to build something sustainable.

- Co-founders of Blueheart from London completed each other when it comes to complementary skills and have very strong chemistry.

How do I know if this is the right fit?

When you finally have a certain person in mind, ask yourself “is this person an energy gainer or energy drainer to me?”. Can you see yourself delight in being around this person almost every day for the next 5 years or more? Do they make you feel energized and motivated or lackadaisical and slow? Nothing is more important than your chemistry. 

A lot of teams learn about each other for many weeks or even months. But you can make things easier by talking through the difficult questions early on. Are we gonna work weekends for the first year? Are we gonna take salaries? How do we hire people? How do we pay them? Are you going to spend time with your kids/partner? What’s your motivation to build a company? Talk through your personal values and your long-term vision for your company. The sooner you have the answers to these questions, the better for the future of your company. 

Besides that, if everything looks perfect in theory, but you are still in doubt, listen to your gut feeling. It is often the best indicator.

Launch your startup with Antler!

Antler is a global early-stage VC investing in the world’s most exceptional people building the defining companies of tomorrow. We help our founders build strong co-founding teams, validate their business idea, connect them with a global network of successful entrepreneurs and mentors as well as provide funding. Find out more about Antler or apply to one of our locations: Singapore, New York City, Nairobi, Amsterdam, Sydney, London, Oslo, or Stockholm.

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