Selecting the Right Business Partner(s)
Joshua Davidson wrote this article
Several months ago, I wrote a great article (in fact, I feel it is one of the best I have written to date on the Chop Dawg blog) about hiring your first employee. I highly recommend reading that article if you haven’t had the opportunity already (click here to visit that blog post), but nonetheless, for a lot of the readers on this blog, I realized that many haven’t even begun their startup yet – let alone are in a situation to begin hiring. Instead, the most common theme that we are consistently asked about instead is to write how to go about finding a business partner to join you on your entrepreneurial journey. Fair enough. It’s a huge question, and one that for many, needs a perfect solution, otherwise your business will be destined to fail well before it even gets off the ground. Consider this article the prequel to the one mentioned above.
Nonetheless, I have hesitated to write on this subject until today – which I will be transparent about now. When I started Chop Dawg in 2009, I began this company with one of my best childhood friends, Kegan Gilbert. Within a few months, though, we went separate directions and I, of course, stayed focused on building this company. I continued working by myself, doing everything (designing, developing, customer acquisition, sales, etc) for over a calendar year before I was ever in a situation to even consider hiring. The reason I have been hesitating to write this blog post is because, well, to be frank, you do not need a co-founder to be successful. We will discuss more of this in my very next blog post, coming soon.
With that said, if you do feel dead-set on needing a co-founder, a business partner, someone to run the show with you, that is perfectly okay. I’m not here to prove a point or say otherwise. Instead, with the great fortunes of working with some incredible teams here at Chop Dawg over the past six (plus) years – I’ve been able to notice many trends that to me, are a direct correlation with making a great founding team. Here are some of those principles, trends, and concepts that you can apply yourself when trying to locate the right partner in crime.
1) Find someone who will compliment your weaknesses, not your strengths
This is the golden rule. If you’re able to digest only one of the six pieces of advice that this article will give you, this is it. In fact, if you look up this similar topic throughout the web, this is the rule provided by nearly all of these resources. Here is the scary part, though. Most people neglect this. Crazy, right?
Here is the honest truth, though. Many people do not have the ability to properly do a self-assessment, more importantly, figure out exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are. Worst of all, when looking for the right co-founder, you end up by human nature, finding someone who feels compatible for you, and due to the premature excitement of starting your company, will put this rule on the backburner instead trying to find the “right” partner due to chemistry. This isn’t to suggest having that someone you can easily work with isn’t a big deal (trust me, it is, this will be your partner through the thick and thin of your company after all), but if you both have the same strengths, yet also have the same weaknesses, you have a flaw in your operations prematurely and worse, probably will begin asking yourself, why have two people taken up all the equity when you still need someone else to make your company tick. That’s a bad combo, especially as a foundation for your future company’s growth.
Instead, focus on finding someone who will help fix the weaknesses you personally have. It could be that they have the experience on financials, or perhaps sales, maybe customer acquisition, they have the technical skills that you need, hell someone that has the ability to help on the funding end. Perhaps you sometimes get a bit emotional and need someone with a more even-keel temperament? The honest answer here is no one will know you better than you. You need to somehow, set aside your ego, figure out exactly what you need, and work your damn best to find that individual that fits the bill. If you’re lucky, you will find someone who shares a great working relationship/chemistry too.
2) Find someone with irreplaceable assets and tangibles
Though the golden rule is just that, the golden rule, this one should immediately follow behind that in importance. When looking for a co-founder, you need to find someone with that irreplaceable asset(s). These are tangibles that are critical to your company getting off the ground and running. If they do not bring anything to the table when it comes to necessary pieces for running a company, why give up equity for a co-founder, when instead, you can simply hire an employee to do the same thing, which gives you more power, more ability to manage your team, less potential power struggles, and everything in-between?
Make sure that your co-founder is someone who without them, you know wholeheartedly, your company won’t be able to succeed. That an employee just won’t get the job done – and you need someone who will dedicate all of themselves to the company, will bring those tangible pieces needed to succeed, and can be an asset not just in the early startup stage, but more importantly, in the long-term stage as a company grows.
3) Find someone who will challenge you (and that you will challenge)
One of the other flaws you often see in weak teams is that everyone on the team is a yes man/woman. They’re afraid to speak up, state their opinions, or cause internal conflict. People don’t like conflict, it is understandable, but the issue is, this is business, not sharing drinks with a few pals. This is the difference between making a living and heading back to a 9-to-5 job. You need to stand up and stand for what you believe in.
Find a co-founder who will have counter-point-of-views to your very own. Someone who is going to be willing to question your opinion, play devil’s advocate, and have a different stance on how to go about executing your business. Of course, the next piece of advice should follow along with this one…
4) Find someone who is aligned with the same vision as you
You need to ensure your new business partner is someone who truly believes in your vision, and is willing to do everything possible to see it come to fruition. Recapping above, having someone that conflicts your opinion is always okay, but it is absolutely critical to ensure that by doing such, they are only doing it because they do believe in another route in order to accomplish the same goal. If they have a different agenda, a different purpose, or a different goal in the long term, everything is a moot point, and to be frank, your company has been probably set up to fail at its foundation. Don’t make this rookie mistake.
5) Don’t rush the process of finding the right someone
Perhaps most frightening thing is that people make too quick of a decision prematurely when it comes to finding the right co-founder. Who you pick will have a direct result on your company culture, future hiring growth, future monetization growth, future publicity, and scalability. Don’t underestimate the power of this decision and the impact that it will have on your business.
What happens to most people, since they are so eager to get started on working on their company, they make a quick decision as soon as someone seems “good enough”. You can see how alarming this can be when looking at the big picture. Instead, take your time. Realize that setting up a solid foundation is one of, if not, the most critical decision that you will be making in your startup’s life. It will be one that will directly result in equity, future payouts, growth, scaling, fundraising, and everything in-between. Be patient, retain a sense of urgency, and make the most educated decision possible. You have all the leverage.
6) Understand that when having a founder, it is no longer just your own company
You need to program yourself when looking for a co-founder, it is no longer just you anymore. This isn’t just your baby. You are about to begin a journey with someone else. You can no longer use the word “you” or treat your co-founder as an employee. He/she is now your partner. It doesn’t matter if you control most of the equity, most of the voting rights, hell, even financing the new business, this new individual has the same at stake as you, and you need to respect that. If you don’t, just hire an employee.
Bringing on a great co-founder can be absolutely huge for a new startup. It is great having someone to share those intimate moments with, to share all of the successes with, and to stand together with during the failures. The additional benefits include challenging each other, planning together, motivating one another, and looking out for each other. Having a great co-founder provides your company with that much more of an asset to your operations and potential long-term success. Take your time, follow the six pieces of advice supplied in this article, and you should be well on your way to having a great founding team destined for growth, success, and a solid company culture.