First-time entrepreneur here, going through the steps toward launching a business. I am reading a lot about how to find and choose a cofounder, and I am wondering what other cofounders or aspiring ones think about assessing personality when searching for a cofounder.
I think the starting point of considering a cofounder is that they have specific skills that complement the other founder(s) (as in having skills the other don't), but that personality/value matches are on the same level - needed just as much as the skills if it's going to work.
I think skill assessment is much easier than personality/value assessment - the latter is best done and most accurate over a long period of time, which is not a luxury many of us have in the startup scene.
If anyone would be so kind as to share their experience, I'd like to hear from successful cofounders who founded companies with people they didn't have an extensive previous relationship with.
How did you consider personality choosing to do something together?
Did you think about it at all?
Did you discuss it ever, or was it more of an intuitive understanding?
I'd also like to hear what anyone in my shoes or in the community thinks about the topic as well.
How do founders discuss personality/values when meeting potential cofounders?
When do you do it?
How much weight do other cofounders place on it?
I've had two biz partners in 25 years (as well as numerous solo ventures).
The first was a college friend, one of my best friends. We had a successful ten year run that ended badly. What ultimately undid us was the feeling that I was doing 90+% of the work for 50 cents on the dollar. As a coach, I have encountered this situation MANY times.
The second was new 'friend', someone I had hired then partnered with. We had decent run of a few years. Then he jumped off a bridge - literally - leaving me with a calamitous mess to unwind.
Having complimentary skills is nice. But much like the divorce rate, partnerships unravel quite often. IMHO it comes down to one thing - character, or the lack thereof.
This will sound like I'm an unromantic old fool but LOVE is a stupid reason to get married. This is coming from someone who's been there for nearly three decades. Your values, goals, morays, wants and desires MUST align or, again, IMHO you are doomed to failure.
Liking your partner is a bonus...
Like all human relationships, you never know. otherwise we wouldn't have a 75% divorce & partner break-up rate.
My general suggestion after first getting a good 'vibe' from someone, would be to base everything on three principals: 1) ownership - make sure ownership of the idea is yours and bring others in as vested partners but not trademark or business owners. you can't split a baby if things don't work. 2) structure - use a traditional 4-year, mutually terminable, monthly vesting agreement with at least a 6 month no-fault trial period to make sure you get along. 3) manage expectations - be very clear with each other about what would constitute a happy relationship, eg: accountability, leadership, communication, risk exposure, time dedication, networking, etc.
To answer from an investor perspective - VCs and other investors are looking for founders (or teams) that give them a unique reason to believe in their talent. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but founders/teams that are the complete package and can recruit and retain a talented management team to grow a company are much more difficult to find.
What should you be looking for? A LOT! Insight on market and trends, judgement of people, products, and business models, and well-networked are all valuable. Also, how do they follow up? How do they respond to setbacks? How do they work to improve obvious holes? All of this is very subjective!
Personalities HAVE to fit. Note, I used the word fit. You're not looking for a best friend.
At the end of the day, though, you must have a smart, skilled, cohesive team with a strong ability to learn and deliver, and be willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, in addition to bringing unique insight, vision, and fit to a project.
I think you're spot on in wanting to evaluate personalities of your potential co-founders. I'll offer some perspectives from experience:
I'd weight personality match on almost equal footing as complementary skill sets. You will need to work with these people for an extended period on your venture (potentially years), and interact, often more than you do daily with your family, significant other, etc. As such, you should assess fit, both with you, and with your other co-founders. I've played referee too many times between executives and more often than not, placing band-aids on issues only heal temporarily....
Unless you are the type to run off to Vegas and elope, walk, don't run into securing your co-founders, as going into business together is very much a marriage. Give things a trial run, possibly for several months before fully committing to a person and awarding founder equity. Like a first date, you are only going to see the good side of someone at the beginning, especially when there is a heavy dose of optimism being spread around at the startup stage. Usually, a person's true colors will begin to seep out after an extended period has passed, or when a negative situation presents itself.
I don't necessarily look to surround myself with "yes" people. It is more healthy to allow for a diversity of personalities, and opinions, which leads to stronger decision-making. My focus instead leans towards looking at an individual's values and motivation. Are they just looking for an easy score, or a type that seeks out instant gratification, or instead are they methodical, determined and most importantly (in my book), a team player?
I don't think you can get your answers to these questions by having folks take a personality test. Instead, I recommend putting in time and effort to develop relationships and ONLY when you are satisfied with the situation at hand (trust your gut), then you begin to share more things with others.
I had a thought, do a volunteer project with the potential co-founder first.
Great way to really get to know someone.
Might be a great event for co-founders lab to host with a group like Habitat for humanity.
It is a bit complicated but the key reason for a cofounder is to supplement your skills deficit and bring in the new thing which you do not have in order for your business to be success.
When it comes to the personality test it is also important because you will be better be alone than be with a repulsive partner in business. i strongly suggest to have such person serve at the capacity of an employee for some time then you can evaluate from these period, or you can cofound with friends who you have known for a while and also use HEXACO.code to compare the personality and read some books about human psycology to be able to have a topnotch information
Great question! As a fellow solopreneur, I look forward to seeing the responses.
I have a show and coincidentally spoke with two cofounders about this topic just today. They compared being cofounders to being married and the business as their baby. They said that even more (or at least as) important as someone skills is that they are as invested in the business as they are, that they are motivated and have similar values.
I think the personality fit of a cofounder will in part depend on the personality and culture of the business. I think most important will be that they get the vision, have a strong work ethic, and can gel.
I'm not sure what your business is but good luck with the process!
Thanks everyone for your thoughts and input so far!
Glad to see that the community feels it is as important as I do, means I'm on the right path at any rate.
To keep it going, if I may...can finding a cofounder be looked at through the 'process' lens? How would one build a process for assessing fit for a cofounder?
(Small clarification: by 'personality assessment' I was referring to the overall activity of assessing someone's personality relative to your own, not a specific test)
Henry - appreciate the wisdom borne out of experience! So how to assess character early on in a relationship?
Stephen - I think the volunteer idea is great, the only challenge being time. I'm gonna think more about that one.
Paul - agree on the importance of conflict; I think diversity is key in all kinds of ways. I'm considering adding a 'let's have an argument' part to potential co-founder meetings to see how we can disagree about something...
John - I tend to agree as well that it's better to be alone than with someone you don't get along with. I'm considering looking at a number of different personality assessments for both myself and a potential cofounder as part of the process.
Chi Chi - I keep hearing the marriage metaphor as well...which isn't exactly comforting given the divorce rate these days...
Tommy - sorry to hear about the hard lessons; I think your point on money, ego, and self-interest is a good frame to keep in mind, and worth establishing how important those things are to a potential cofounder (and to yourself!).
Hi joel curry,
I agree skill assesment is easy task but not every one equip with same arms more than skill set togetherness ,commitment and trust towards desired/next goal is important , if i am not wrong my friend.