Startup life calls for wearing many hats and doing a lot of different things. And if you’re self-aware enough to admit you aren’t and likely won’t ever be good or great at everything, you need help.
That help is a person who will fill in the gaps where needed. Still, you can’t just bring anyone on board, and data shows it. CB Insights analyzed 101 failed startups and found out that discord with a cofounder was a fatal issue for 13% of them, while 23% failed because they didn’t have the right team.
While animosity, lack of agreement, and downright mistakes aren’t limited to the founding team, they are the ones you can avoid early if you pick the person who will complement you in all the right ways.
Based on my humble experience, that means looking for a few core things, starting with:
Have a meaningful connection with a person
In a partnership, you spend a lot of time with your partner(s), arguably even more than with your family. So, the first thing I advise you to do is spend time with people you want to spend time with. Get to know them extensively before you decide if they are the right people to join forces with. Communication is vital between partners, and it takes a real relationship to achieve it.
This entire premise perhaps sounds a bit superficial but I believe in karma, in the result of one’s actions and the actions themselves rather than punishment or reward. Why would you want to spend hours on meetings or days, even weeks on a project with someone who’s not up to your liking, even if they have a great idea? I don’t know about you but I cannot imagine myself enjoying my work in that situation, let alone becoming their friend (highly beneficial for reasons I’ll explain in a minute).
You may or may not know this but entrepreneurship can be brutal and unforgiving, especially startups with their high failure rate. People and investors tend to complain, leave, and dampen your spirit, legal issues arise, infrastructure fails, and so on.
If there’s anything you can do to lessen the bad side of having a startup, do it. Running a business is only part of the story – you have to be able to handle an ongoing onslaught of challenges and persist. It’s always easier if you have someone by your side with whom you share basic human values about life and business. After all, this is the person you’ll be entrusting your future with.
With that in mind:
If you can, have a friend as a partner
Here’s a cool fact: eight out of ten startups begin their journey with friends or relatives as the majority prefer their nearest and dearest rather than taking a risk on “unknown” candidates. I fully realize this might not be an option for everyone but if you have even the slightest of chances to make it happen, I sincerely suggest you do so.
No need to look any further than my current engagement in M51. We founded it on a basis of friendship: four people who grew up together and spent a lot of time with each other. Since we were kids, our dream was not only to run a business or make money but to wake up every day and go to work with our friends because then, it’s less of a work thing and more of a fun thing.
More importantly, we understood early on that one of the most important things in life is trust. Its importance in the creation of sustainable business and in positive culture can’t be overstated, especially because the borderlines of trust in a business environment can easily blur at some points. It’s always easier when the person who has your back is someone you know values your relationship and will take care of you the same way you’d take care of them. You don’t live in fear of being screwed over.
Another huge plus of having a friend as your partner is that it’s relatively easy to sort out your differences and explore multiple perspectives, particularly for important decisions. There is no ego – each person understands the strengths and weaknesses of the other, which allows the best possible outcomes.
Having a friend as your partner is definitely an easier way but don’t limit yourself to a close group of people. There are also relatives and people with whom you have an existing rapport, who can become a friend of yours in some way (the next best thing). Ultimately – people you can trust.
Next is something that should go without saying:
Get someone who completes your skill set and expertise
Ideally, you want a partner who brings something different to the table.
In other words, a good business partner should have skills that support and complement your own. While it is certainly tempting to find someone who is very much like you, it’s better to have a partner who can fill in the gaps and benefit the future of your company.
Hence, you should assess your own strengths and weaknesses as no single person is an expert in all things business. For example, if you’re a master of finance skills but lack that interpersonal touch, consider a partner who is a great listener and an effective speaker. Look at it this way: the more skills your partner and you bring to the business together, the easier it will be to get it up and running, then growing.
The simple truth is that your business partner can make or break you.
Unfortunately, there is no blueprint to building a successful startup. However, few things are more important than finding the right person to help you deal with whatever the journey will throw at you. It’s fairly easy to enjoy the good times but it’s far more important to successfully navigate the tough times as that’s where you find out what you’re made of.
Consider discussing the aforementioned aspects as a valuable investment of time. While you’ll likely never find the perfect partner, taking some time to ponder these factors will ensure you find the best one you can.