Look, Like, Love: The 3 stages to finding an ideal co-founder

One of my first partners in business: Tui Mali (red shirt, I’m in the blue t-shirt), Chief of Vorovoro Island & beyond in Northern Fiji.

Treat finding a co-founder like dating: look a lot, try a few and don’t get married too quickly!

Word of warning: It’s not as easy as simply following these steps, we’re talking about human beings here! But this will help de-risk the process and potentially speed it up.

The three stages of finding the ideal co-founder:

LOOK: What am I looking for?

LIKE: How to find an ideal co-founder?

LOVE: How do I structure the partnership?

STAGE 1: LOOK

Between you, you need to be able to:

1. Have a shared vision and values (the most important).

2. One of you has to make the first version of the product/service.

3. One of you needs access to your potential customers.

Questions to consider and ask when ‘dating’:

1. What is the solution you are creating?

2. What do you not know how to do?

3. What are your weaknesses?

4. What resources do you lack?

5. What do you expect a co-founder to do?

6. Whilst your co-founders are doing that…. What will you be doing?

7. How will you make the important decisions together?

8. The long-term vision for the business is?

STAGE 2: LIKE

Now its time to get out there and start testing potential relationships.

1. Get your idea out there.

The more you share and invite people to join you on your new journey the more chance you will have of meeting someone who cares about the problem/need you are solving. Often your early adopters can turn into collaborators or future partners.

Go to events, share your story, talk about your mission, market your product!

2. Look for people who are different.

It’s easy to meet and attract people like yourself. Try to find areas of difference in your future partners. Different skills, different backgrounds, different networks. Same values & vision.

3. Collaborate on a Project together.

Pick a project to work on for a set period of time — ideally no more than 1–2 months. If at the end you have traction and enjoyed it then look into stage 3. Don’t set expectations for a business partnership. If it’s not fun 80% of the time working together, especially when it gets challenging — don’t continue it.

STAGE 3: LOVE

Now you’ve collaborated successfully its time to seal the deal!

  1. Use an equity pie calculator (make a copy) to work out approximate value. See if this matches your gut instinct. More info. Then make an offer.

2. Vest your equity over a decent chunk of time so de-risks for both of you and business. This means that if one of you leaves the business (this can happen for all kind of life/work reasons) then the remaining founder/s and the company is protected and you have some equity to reallocate/sell. You can do this by email.

eg. We agree the following:

On the 31/12/18 we each own 20% of the business

End of 31/12/19 we each own 35% of the business

End of 31/12/20 we each own 50% of the business

3. Also, agree on the following and write it down:

  • What the mission/vision of the company is
  • Who is the ‘source’ or the holder of the vision and is everyone happy with that? It’s not going to work if people have slightly different versions of the vision. It’s always one person’s source and other people are happy to enable.
  • Your non-negotiables
  • How you make decisions
  • What your roles are
  • Where/how you will work
  • How you will hold each other accountable
  • How you will celebrate success
  • How you will deal with failure

Now you’re ready to build that business together!

Let me know how you get on and any other tips.

This article was written by Ben Keene, Head of The Escape School. If you’re serious about becoming your own boss and building something for yourself, check out our Startup Accelerator programme where you can launch your first version in just 10-weeks, all around a full-time job.

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