It’s a challenge to find your startup co-founder(s), but it’s one worth taking seriously, as it’s likely the most important choice you’ll make as a startup founder. Often, founder chemistry is the make-or-break for a very early startup.
After quitting his job as a director of sales, Gal Deitsch, co-founder and CPO of Aligned, took six months to research and build a thesis around solving the chaos in B2B sales. His next hurdle was finding a co-founder. In this episode of Founder2Founder, we spoke about Gal’s methodology for ‘co-founder due diligence’, the ‘co-founder dating’ and how to find The One (or, in his case, two).
9 tips for finding your startup co-founder
1. ‘Dating’ for partnership: Finding the right co-founder is often compared to dating. "I dated four different CTOs, each one of them for about a month, a month and a half," Gal says. It wasn't just about chemistry; it was about complementing skills and buying into the vision.
2. Make a pitch deck: Gal drew from his sales experience once he realized he needed to make a clear case for his startup vision. “Make a pitch deck for your partner. Don't just hold your vision in your mind, write it down.” It was important not to hold back, but to give the candidate a full chance to understand and buy into the vision.
3. Work on a project together: This is critical. Do a trial project together to see how you actually work to solve a problem in collaboration mode. Gal spent a month with each candidate, incorporating this element into the ‘getting to know each other’ phase.
4. Meet at home: "I wanted to see their hunger, how they deal with crises," Gal adds. Part of his ‘dating’ process with candidates was to meet at their own homes, which Gal says can be critical to understanding their approaches to partnership, work style, etc. A stable life often translates to a stable business partnership.
5. Look for leaders, not managers: It’s definitely important to find someone who has been a manager in the past, but find someone who knows how to lead, not only manage. "Be a leader. Make sure you get someone that was at least a team lead in his previous position," Gal advises.
6. Recognize your strengths: Aligned ended up with three co-founders, because after finding his CTO (Yotan Sela), a year later Gal saw that they needed a CEO figure, and Gal actually would be optimally suited in the chief product role, designing the product and leading the vision.
7. Leverage your network: Speak to mentors and advisors in your professional and personal network to pitch the idea you’ve researched but also figure out who the right candidates are to pursue, get introductions, get advice. As well, use the accelerators to find a co-founder - often they can offer matching or introductions. There are also matching/dating sites for co-founders, Facebook groups, and more.
8. Don’t settle: The biggest pitfall to avoid in this search for a co-founder? Gal was clear: "Never settle for a co-founder. That's one of the biggest decisions of the company." It’s better to take time finding the right co-founder than to rush into partnership because it might ‘look better’. Gal highlights: “Take your time when finding a partner. Make sure you can move forward without one and you're not completely dependent on it."
9. Set clear expectations: It may seem ‘unromantic’ - but this is business. Set clear expectations and write them down together in a founders’ agreement. Gal likens it to a prenup that sets clear expectations right from the start, about being in this for the long haul, how it will work in different scenarios, etc.
Checklist: The formula for your startup co-founder search
Based on Gal's experience and insights, here's a guide to the process of finding your startup co-founder:
Ideation and Research
[ ] Identify the problem you want to solve.
[ ] Research the market to ensure there's a demand for your solution.
[ ] Develop a thesis or vision for your startup.
[ ] Create a pitch deck to clearly articulate your vision to potential co-founders.
[ ] Make a list of potential co-founders based on skills, experience, and network.
[ ] Reach out to potential co-founders for initial discussions.
The "Dating" Phase
[ ] Schedule one-on-one meetings to discuss vision, roles, and expectations.
[ ] Engage in a trial period to work on small projects together.
[ ] Visit potential co-founders in their home environment to gauge their lifestyle and stability.
Assessing Leadership and Compatibility
[ ] Evaluate their leadership skills and past managerial experience.
[ ] Assess how well they handle crises and challenges.
[ ] Ensure they complement your skills and can bring a different perspective.
Legal and Formalities
[ ] Discuss and draft a founders' agreement to set clear expectations.
[ ] Agree on equity distribution, roles, and responsibilities.
[ ] Choose a co-founder who aligns with your vision and complements your skills.
[ ] Officially bring them onboard and make any necessary legal formalities.
[ ] Regularly check-in to ensure alignment on business goals and strategies.
[ ] Be open to feedback and willing to adapt roles as the startup grows.
[ ] Use your network, accelerators, and VC connections to find potential co-founders.
[ ] Don't rush the process; it's better to move forward alone than to settle for the wrong partner.
Gal's journey with Aligned is a testament to the power of vision, the importance of finding the right co-founder (or co-founders), and the need for a well-thought-out strategy. Having a strong, well ideated idea is a critical start, but with the right people alongside you, it’s an optimal journey.
If you're in this process right now, take a page out of Gal's book: be thorough, be patient, and most importantly, be aligned with your vision and your team.