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

Published in August 2022, updated for relevancy in May 2023

As a solopreneur, I can only imagine how rewarding yet occasionally stressful it is to run your own business that’s expected to grow and experience 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 they haven’t started a company with someone already, I don’t recommend looking for a co-founder now. Here’s why.

Part 1: Understand your "Why": Why are you looking for a co-founder, not an advisor or a consultant?

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

Let me stop you right there—do you actually need an app? :) Or will an interactive wireframe (or a no-code solution) work just as well for what you want? If that’s the case, no cofounder is needed—you can create an interactive wireframe yourself and get in front of customers for feedback

As a side effect, you can modify this wireframe to reflect better how you solve your customers’ pain points (s) based on their feedback from your demos. Once your customers are interested, you can 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 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 you don’t need a cofounder if it's the former. :)

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

You may have heard that finding a great co-founder 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 the expertise and complementary skills you’re looking for in a co-founder. 

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

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 co-founder, here are some resources.

Part 4: Where to Find a Cofounder

Many resources exist 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 them to see if there’s an opportunity to collaborate:

Parting Advice 

If you bring on a co-founder, you’ll work 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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