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Part 1: Finding A Co-Founder

“Gentleman’s word’ is a nice concept and an appreciable one. But for any business arrangement like having a co-founder, you must document your commercial understanding including each others’ rights, roles, responsibilities and how to handle disputes; more importantly how to face dissolution of the collaboration as co-founder.

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“Looking for: a well-intentioned, sincere, energetic, business focussed co-founder. Empathy is a need. Ability to deal with daily stress, chaos and multiple stakeholders is a must. Past entrepreneurial attempts could be a plus. If you have a Plan B, pls do not apply. Pls do give references, as ref checks will be done before our meeting”.

If the above ad strikes a chord with you, read on.

Being a single founder is no sin. Having co-founder(s) is no greater sin either. And as a single founder, if you are searching for new co-founder, it’s not a crime at all.

“Founder” - person who starts a new institution or organisation.

Bringing an idea to fruition and into a sustainable business is a tough ask. In this journey, it’s better to have people to share that load. You may not have had a best-friend-turned-co-founder. Or you may not even have a best friend !

Looking for a co-founder is a lot like finding a “better you”, be it in a cathartic or chaotic sort of way ! You need someone to complete & complement your capabilities. Of course this is easier said than done ! Nothing ever prepares you for the big step of choosing the co-founder for your idea-to-business journey.

Choosing a co-founder - Qualities to look for

Some co-founders start out as friends and decide to start a business together. Some co-founders choose one another for their varied skills, and then become friends. There is no fixed formula of the “right” co-founder and no unique method to identify a successful formula. One sure aspect is that you have to weigh all the pros & cons of each individual you think of, for collaborating as your co-founder. Whether you decide on one co-founder or few, the bottom line is that all of you have to get along. Else it’s a sure shot way for business to go bust and with a painful process.

Trust can’t rust

Trust is the most under-rated human values. On this value rests the concept of relationship and business. You need someone whom you can trust completely. Trust, Iike integrity cannot be measured to say that “I trust my partner 98.4%”. Trust is binary. Either you trust or you don’t ! If you don’t trust your business partner or key member of your core team or the potential co-founder candidate, distance yourself from them. Longer you procrastinate in that decision to sever business ties, harder and messier it could potentially turn into.

Complementary personality styles and skills

Each of us think we have a certain core strength and skill set that sets us apart from our competition. It would help for you to look for someone who brings in complementary (yes, read the spelling properly... it’s not “complimentary”) skill sets and business strengths. Your personal interests could vary, but you have to be aligned on the purpose of your business and the Value system that both of you ascribe to.

Character rocks

Character of an individual, especially someone with whom you are looking to build a part of your life journey called entrepreneurship, is non-negotiable. Skills and functional competence can be learnt or even outsourced to an employee; but character and moral values cannot be.

Passion & commitment

It’s not just good enough that your co-founder brings in rich experience, expertise, network or probably even a financial investment. It’s critical that the person shares a passion for your venture and has absolute commitment for its success and the journey.

Mutual Respect

Respect is a touchy topic. It cannot be linked to just the success or failure of your ideas or your venture. It has to be about the individual ! In that right, you and your co-founder have to share mutual respect for each other. That cannot just be a wish list, but a prime & non-compromisable need.

No compromises

In life, you don’t want to settle for anything less than what you wish for. And the same philosophy you adopt while choosing your life partner. Similar has to be the firmness in looking for a co-founder match. After all, you want a “better (business) half” and not a “bitter half”. Don’t feel “rushed” to decide about a co-founder candidate. You are better off with the right person, than rushing into a messy battle with the wrong person.

To make this work, while evaluating your co-founder candidates, you need to be unemotional & use your rationale views, in assessing their strengths, and to figure where their fault-lines lie, issues about the person, personality & their value system. Ask all the tough and awkward questions upfront. If both of you can get through those well, then you are set for the next step. However there is no guarantee that this marriage might work well till kingdom-come.

Name-buying

Don’t get carried away to “acquire” a successful person as your co-founder. Don’t be coerced into letting your decision be swayed by someone’s material success or fancy lifestyle or you ending up giving the co-founder tag (and Founder-rights in your venture) as a way to buy your way to a prominent “name”.

Communicate & critique

Unless you can communicate openly with your co-founder and without fear of being judged, you really can’t do anything productive. To ensure that both of you have that ability to challenge / critique each other, you need to figure out your personal communication styles. Few people are comfortable using email; some prefer chatting apps; some prefer it over a face to face conversation. There could be many variants of styles. You have to figure out if both of your styles would interject somewhere to make it worthwhile as co-founders.

There is no one correct communication style or method. Every individual has a style. Many founder-entrepreneurs we know are not great public speakers, but have built successful businesses.

Agreement in handling disagreements

The true test is that even if both of you don’t agree on something, would you be able to discuss that openly and ‘agree to disagree’ &/or resolve it as per the need of the venture?

Every entrepreneurial journey is fraught with stress, tensions, failures, debates and massive disagreements. Each of them can be handled with patience, resolve and tact. For any entrepreneur, it is critical to build a process on how to deal with disagreements; especially if it’s with a co-founder !

Stability of mind, body & finance

Entrepreneurship is tough on self ! It is a demanding task master and hence fitness is key. One of the toughest-ask and a sensitive one is to gauge your potential co-founder’s health - physical / mental / emotional & financial (and assuming that you have the courtesy to reciprocate). If it is not done in a transparent way of asking the person her/himself, it could even be construed as intrusion to privacy.

It could be a tough chat to have. But don’t you want to know if someone whom you are going to share your material gains and reputation with, is fit to walk that path with you ? You have to ensure that if you are to work closely with the person for times to come, you have to be aware of what’s happening and who are the key people in their life.

Also important is the financial stability of the person. If (s)he needs a regular monthly pay soon, and if your venture plans don’t have that as a resource, then you probably are looking at that person as a potential employee !

Pre-agreed & documented commercial interests

“Gentleman’s word’ is a nice concept and an appreciable one. But for any business arrangement like having a co-founder, you must document your commercial understanding including each others’ rights, roles, responsibilities and how to handle disputes; more importantly how to face dissolution of the collaboration as co-founder.

(To be continued …)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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founders corporate Magazine Issue 6 Nov 2020

Srinath Sridharan

Independent markets commentator. Media columnist. Board member. Corporate & Startup Advisor / Mentor. CEO coach. Strategic counsel for 25 years, with leading corporates across diverse sectors including automobile, e-commerce, advertising, consumer and financial services. Works with leaders in enabling transformation of organisations which have complexities of rapid-scale-up, talent-culture conflict, generational-change of promoters / key leadership, M&A cultural issues, issues of business scale & size. Understands & ideates on intersection of BFSI, digital, ‘contextual-finance’, consumer, mobility, GEMZ (Gig Economy, Millennials, gen Z), ESG. Well-versed with contours of governance, board-level strategic expectations, regulations & nuances across BFSI & associated stakeholder value-chain, challenges of organisational redesign and related business, culture & communication imperatives.

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Karthik Prabhakar

Venture Capitalist

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