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Finding a co-founder is not like dating

Written by Alice Bentinck on Wednesday, 14 October 2015. Posted in Leadership, People

Many will tell you that finding a business partner is like finding a romantic partner. But that couldn’t be further from the truth

Finding a co-founder is not like dating

In a lot of the literature on team building, it’s often compared to dating. Commentators argue that it’s a process of turning a lover into a lifelong partner. You get to know each other over drinks, go away for a weekend together to align your aspirations and then you finally commit to each other. Having seen more than 160 people build 50 successful teams – not to mention countless unsuccessful teams – I can say unequivocally that this is a great recipe for a friendship. But friendship and co-founder compatibility aren’t always aligned.

Respect and trust is key

Respect and trust are some of the most important elements of a co-founder relationship. You’ve got to have respect for each other and for each other’s skills. And, if you can’t trust the person you’re working with, you shouldn’t be working together. How do you find out if you respect someone’s skills and that you trust them to deliver? The only way is to actually work with them.

We have had teams at EF in the past who would have been unlikely drinking buddies. But they had immense respect for each other’s skills and knew how vital each of them were to the startup they were building. What’s more, over time, friendship develops. One of the biggest stimulators for friendship is going through intense periods of stress together – that’s probably the only thing you can guarantee when building a startup. The most important thing is how quickly you get over those moments of stress.

Establish expectations before you start working together

Is it a good idea to throw yourself into a co-founding relationship with someone you barely know? Yes. It is. But this is easier said than done. There’s a risk to working on an idea you deeply care about with someone you don’t know that well. We’re all too familiar with stories of people who have tried working together and then fallen out.

So, before beginning to work together, set a time limit where you can assess your productivity and make a mutual decision about continuing working together. Secondly, have an agreement about who owns any assets created by the company.

Productivity is traction for teams

Once you’re working together, how do you know if your team is any good? The only thing that matters is your level of productivity. Happy teams that build good startups are productive from day one. They don’t get lost in thinking and strategising; they treat every day like they are against the clock and they get stuff done. If you don’t think your team is making progress, it’s probably time to think about a new co-founder.

Ultimately, there is no magic formula: team building is not paint by numbers. But working with someone you respect and who cares about the problem just as much as you do is a pretty good start. 

About the Author

Alice Bentinck

Alice Bentinck

To describe Bentinck as well-versed in tech would be something of an understatement. She co-founded both Entrepreneur First, the pre-seed investment programme for Europe's best technical founders, and Code First: Girls, the provider of free coding courses for young women. She has also been a judge for TechCrunch Disrupt, acts as an advisor for Sherry Coutu’s Founders4Schools and was one of five innovation advisors to the prime minister at the Northern Future Forum 2014.

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