8 Qualities to Look For in a Co-Founder

Qualified co-founder in an office.

Picking the right co-founder can make or break your startup. The person you choose will be your go-to for major decisions, support, and shared efforts on your entrepreneurial journey. So how do you find and select the right co-founder? We’ve shared some of the most important qualities to look for.

What to Look For in a Startup Co-Founder

Choosing a great co-founder is one of the most critical decisions any entrepreneur will make. While shared passion and complementary skills are important, you also need to consider qualities related to personality, working style, and mindset. Compatibility in these areas determines how smoothly you'll work together through the challenges of building a company. 

Here are the qualities most predictive of successful co-founder relationships:

1. Shared Vision and Values

You and your co-founder need to share the same vision for where you want to take the startup. If you have different end goals in mind, your company will quickly go off the rails.

For example, if you see your company becoming a global brand but your co-founder wants to keep it small and local, you'll constantly butt heads over key decisions. Try to find someone who aligns with your broader vision and desired scale.

You should also share priorities and values. If you value transparency, but your co-founder likes to play things close to the vest, it will breed resentment. Having similar ethics makes it easier to get along and make tough calls together.

When evaluating candidates, have in-depth conversations about your visions for the startup and what values are most important to each of you. Look for alignment around big-picture goals and ethics.

Questions to Ask Potential Co-Founders:

  • What is your long-term vision for what we'll build together?
  • What principles and values are non-negotiable to you?
  • What type of leadership style do you envision for yourself?

2. Complementary Skills

Find someone whose skills complement yours. If you're a technical guru, team up with a business-savvy partner. Diverse backgrounds bring more to the table and cover more bases.

For instance, if you're an incredible engineer but struggle with sales, find a co-founder who excels at business development and forming partnerships. Or if you lack financial skills, choose someone strong in accounting, forecasting, and managing cash flow.

Personality and work style tests like Myers-Briggs, DISC, or CliftonStrengths can reveal work preferences to help identify complementary skills. Have potential partners take one of these assessments and look for differences that balance each other out. 

Questions to Ask Potential Co-Founders:

  • What are your core professional strengths and weaknesses?
  • What skills and experiences are you looking for in a co-founder?
  • How do our skill sets complement each other?
  • Are you willing to take a personality test and share your results?

3. Commitment and Dedication

Ensure your co-founder is just as committed to the venture and willing to put in long hours. Shared dedication increases your chances of pushing through hard times.

Beware of partnering with someone who seems less hungry and motivated than you. For example, if you're willing to work evenings and weekends, but your co-founder clocks out right at 5 p.m., it will brew tension.

Ask candidates about what commitment looks like to them. Have open conversations about what hours and workload to expect. Make sure your levels of dedication align.

Questions to Ask Potential Co-Founders:

  • How much time per week can you commit to this venture?
  • How will we hold each other accountable for putting in the work?
  • How do you envision splitting duties and responsibilities?
  • What excites or concerns you about the early-stage startup grind?

4. Accountability

You should feel comfortable challenging each other when necessary. Mutual accountability enables you to call each other out and have difficult conversations.

If you notice your co-founder consistently missing deadlines or dropping the ball on agreed tasks, you need to be able to confront them directly about it. And vice versa - you should be open to criticism as well.

During your vetting process, simulate scenarios where you respectfully call out issues. See how candidates respond – the right co-founder won't get defensive or escalate conflict.

Questions to Ask Potential Co-Founders:

  • How do you respond when someone confronts you about an issue?
  • What would you do if you felt I wasn't holding up my end?
  • How will we resolve conflicts or disagreements?

5. Communication

Communication is key. Discuss roles, goals, and expectations upfront. Maintain open and clear communication moving forward.

Set regular check-ins (daily/weekly) to touch base on progress and roadblocks. Over-communicate, especially at the outset, to establish norms.

Look for self-awareness around communication styles – for example, "I tend to think out loud" or "I need time to process before responding." Align your styles where possible.

Questions to Ask Potential Co-Founders:

  • How would you prefer to communicate day-to-day?
  • How often should we check in with each other?
  • What are your communication pet peeves?
  • How can we foster open and transparent communication?

6. Problem Solving

There will be disagreements. Can you resolve issues rationally? Look for emotional maturity and the ability to problem-solve together.

Present hypothetical scenarios where you disagree on a business decision. Observe how the candidate responds and works towards compromise. Do they get frustrated or lash out? Or stay poised and objective?

Ideal co-founders can have healthy debates while maintaining mutual respect. You want emotionally intelligent partners who see conflict as productive.

Questions to Ask Potential Co-Founders:

  • How do you typically approach problem-solving?
  • What strategies do you use to keep your emotions in check during conflicts?
  • How could we adapt if we discover our initial product idea won't work?
  • What creative strategies might work if we run out of funding?

7. Trust and Respect

It's vital to trust each other fully and respect each other's perspectives. Trust is key to an effective partnership.

Have candid conversations to understand how you each like to be treated by colleagues. Get on the same page around norms for building trust – meeting commitments, sharing credit, etc.

Ask for examples of how they've built trusted partnerships in the past. Look for authenticity and empathy.

Questions to Ask Potential Co-Founders:

  • How do you typically build rapport and relationships with colleagues?
  • How do you typically like to be recognized or appreciated for your contributions?
  • How can we be sensitive to each other's boundaries and build psychological safety?

8. Level-Headed

Launching a startup inevitably involves dealing with high-stakes problems under tight deadlines and constraints. You need a co-founder who can maintain composure and make sound decisions even when tensions are high. Emotional maturity and grace under pressure are essential.

Additionally, make sure you have self-care practices and support systems in place. Being able to recognize burnout early and recharge will allow you to both stay composed when it matters most. 

Questions to Ask Potential Co-Founders:

  • How do you typically react when plans change, or things don't go as expected?
  • Can you describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision under tight deadlines or constraints?
  • What self-care practices help you avoid burnout and manage stress?

Final Thoughts

Finding the right co-founder can feel like an overwhelming process – after all, you’re looking for someone you can trust to be your business partner for the long haul. While experience and skills are important, don’t underestimate the power of intangible qualities like mindset, communication style, and emotional intelligence.

But also, keep in mind that no one is perfect. The key is to find someone who not only embodies most of the above qualities but is also willing to grow and learn along with you. The best co-founders complement each other, compensate for each other's weaknesses, and continuously inspire each other to reach new heights. Good luck with your search!

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