Dear Advisor: How do I Find a Cofounder? (or) Why you Don't Need One

August 2022

As a solopreneur, I can only imagine how rewarding, yet occasionally stressful, it is to run your own business that’s expected/experiencing growth – and you’re looking for more support. You keep hearing from start-up communities – and maybe even from investors – that you need a co-founder. Where do you even start?

I’m no stranger to opinionated blog posts (such as Biggest AI/ML mistakes made by startups and What should (not) be your AI roadmap? (or) Why You Don't Need AI in your SaaS MVP), so bear with me :)

When founders ask me this question, they’re often surprised to hear me say that – if you haven’t started a company with someone already, then I actually don’t recommend looking for a cofounder now. Here’s why.

Part 1: Understand your "Why": Why are you looking for a cofounder – and not an advisor, or a consultant?

The typical answer I hear (especially from non-technical founders) about this, is: there’s no funding, but I need to develop an app. Since we need an app, the only way I can bring-on a technical person to develop this app for us, is to have them be compensated in equity.

Let me stop you right there – do you actually need an app? :) Or will an interactive wireframe work just as well for what you’re looking for? If that’s the case, no cofounder is needed – and you can create an interactive wireframe yourself, and get in front of customers for feedback.

As a side effect, you’ll be able to modify this wireframe yourself to better reflect how you solve your customers’ pain point(s) based on their feedback from your demos. And – once there’s interest from your customers, you’ll be able to share this wireframe as you interview and hire the technical team/consultant/agency/etc. to make a prototype of the app a reality – and be on the same page about what you’re trying to achieve and what it should look like.

Another way to think about whether or not you need a cofounder is: will this person help you execute on your idea, or (as Gary Livingston puts it) "expand on it" – and make it a joint effort? I probably don’t have to tell you that if it’s the former, you don’t need a cofounder. :)

Part 2: Understand Compatibility: Do you trust this person to have your back during tough times?

You may have heard that finding a great cofounder is like finding a partner in marriage. Potentially there’s a handful of great partners out there for you, but that’s before filtering out prospective partners based on expertise and complementary skills you’re looking for in a cofounder.

  • Speaking of, what gaps are you trying to fill in your expertise, product offering and start-up trajectory by bringing on a cofounder?

  • Whomever you’re considering, consider if they’ll be there for the long haul, through thick and thin. When you interview them, can they share a time (or two) when they’ve done just that in the past?

Part 3: Understand Cofounder Compensation

There are many resources out there on how to think about and structure cofounder compensation; here are some of my favorites:

Having said all of this, we’re all entitled to our own opinions :) If you still think you need a cofounder, here are some resources for you.

Part 4: Where to Find a Cofounder

There are many resources out there for platforms and events to help you meet potential cofounders. I’ve even gotten cold outreach through LinkedIn, asking me to be a cofounder, even though I’m not looking to do so!

My biggest recommendation is to find (virtual/hybrid/in-person) start-up events/communities that you enjoy attending regularly, and keep showing up! You’ll see a handful of the same people each time (!), and be able to build relationships; down the line, you may potentially find a promising collaborator or mentor.

Part 5: Interviewing Potential CoFounders

Say you’ve found a potential cofounder, here are a number of ways to learn more about then to see if there’s an opportunity to collaborate:

  • Remember in how we talked about understanding you 'why', how to evaluate compatibility, and evaluate whether they’ll help you fill expertise/skillset gaps (above), I highly recommend asking behavioral questions around these topics to help you evaluate potential fit.

  • In additional, I recommend reviewing advice from First Round Review on attributes to look for in a cofounder – and see if you can frame behavioral questions around those attributes as well

  • Can you tell I typically ask a lot of questions to help me understand something? :) Here are 50 more from (another article of) First Round Review to ask of a potential cofounder

  • Since company culture starts from the top, listen for: how open they are to feedback, to an alternate point-of-view, or (as Sophia Matveeva puts it), to how comfortable they are in saying "I don’t know".

  • Remember to lean on your network (which includes your accelerator cohort, mentors and advisors) to help interview top candidates, especially if you're a non-technical cofounder looking for a technical founder.

Parting Advice

If you bring on a cofounder, you’ll be working very closely together for the next 5-10+ years. Do you respect and trust this person to be on this journey with you, to be there for you?

Watch for red flags, from potential cofounders – and even investors. You’re looking for a partner from both.

I hope this advice helps you think about, evaluate or potentially find the right cofounder for you! Good luck on your journey!

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