Finding a co-founder? Thoughts on fit, function and purpose.

Finding a co-founder? Thoughts on fit, function and purpose.

Having a co-founder is awesome, but how do you know they’re the right match?

Do you want to build a start-up? It’s a tough journey for a solo founder. You need an incredibly broad and deep skillset, and perhaps more importantly you’ll be alone for the extreme highs and lows that are part of startup life. Most start-up success stories have 2+ co-founders. But starting a company together is a massive commitment. It’s often jokingly referred to as being pretty similar to marriage — co-founders will tell you that’s no joke.

When I decided to launch a startup, I didn’t have a co-founder in mind but knew I wanted to work with a thought partner who shared my values and my ambitions.

First, there’s the problem of finding potential co-founders. If you’re looking for a stranger with a complementary skill set, there are a few avenues. YC is making inroads here, helping people find potential co-founders all over the world. There are plenty of Slack and Facebook groups where you can try and reach out. Antler, which I joined, is a VC that brings together a diverse talent pool, so enabling you to test our many potential co-founder constellations before committing to a team.

Second, how do you quickly figure out who’s Mrs or Mr Right?


Testing, testing….


You can chat; you could interview. You should definitely crack on with getting work done together. In addition, you can “test” yourself and your potential co-founder. There are 100s of assessments and frameworks out there that analyse your character, behaviours, motivations, personality — the list goes on. F4S is a frontrunner for people looking for a start-up co-founder (no, I’m not being paid by them!); they have a rich dataset specifically built up from entrepreneurs. In my career in the military, consulting and start-ups, I’ve done plenty: DISC, SDI, F4S, Myers-Brigg and Clifton strengths, to name a few. There is no single test that will give you the answer, but some will suit certain industries better than others.

Some people love them, some people are pretty cynical about them. Here are a few things I try to keep in mind when I’m using them for myself and my team.

  1. These tests shine a light on your natural behaviours and motivations. But as an experienced professional, you have had to adapt to many different work situations, take on a load of different team and leadership responsibilities, and handle all sorts of different people. A high score in one area and a low score in another doesn’t mean you can’t operate extremely well in the low-score area. What it probably does mean is in an environment where you could freely choose between your high-score behaviour and low-score behaviour, you’d probably operate in your high-score area.

  2. Your future is not set — there’s no fate except what you make for yourself. Or — “I’m not happy with my results”. The first time you do one of these tests can be pretty eye-opening, and you may not like what you see. We all want to be in Gryffindor, right? Well first, there are no wrong answers on any of these tests. Whatever your results, you can achieve amazing things in the right environment. And if they’ve highlighted a weaker area that’s disappointing for you, you can use this insight to work on the blindspot.

  3. The assessment shouldn’t be a one-hit wonder. So you’ve done the test — great! Now what? I’ve seen people (usually in a group — a promotion course, team building, or induction) do the test, gain a load of fascinating insights, have a great discussion on how these results manifest in real life, and how they can use them in the future…. And then nothing. Zero. To really get value from them, you and your team should come back to your results. If there’s a disagreement in the team, talking about it in the context of your results can help you have a really objective conversation and truly understand different points of view.

  4. Finally, there is no substitute for self awareness. These tests do rely on a bit of honest introspection. The better ones are hard to manipulate to get an answer you want, but if you’re not open with your answers, you’ll get a weird outcome.

Ultimately, these assessments are a framework and a tool, not the full answer. Everyone is different, and scores alone can’t predict how you will get on.

One could spend a year working with a co-founder on an interesting, high potential project after work, or on weekends, or even full time if you’ve managed to save up to take a few months of work. But when you really get going you may find that the whole year was a honeymoon period. A great middle ground is to go through an accelerator or incubator with your co-founder (or even join one of these programmes to meet your co-founder — that’s what happened to me!). They are pressure cookers, intense environments where your ideas and decisions are challenged at every turn. Two months in this kind of environment gives you nowhere to hide. I met my co-founder Vandana at Antler, and we began building Andisor there. It’s been less than a year, but I feel as if I have known her and worked with her for a decade.


My own co-founder “marriage”

Vandana and I have many similarities, and some massive differences. You definitely want to be similar in some ways. Vandana and I share the same core values, and we are very aligned in our working styles. We’ve both been shaped by a military background, we’ve worked in large organisations, and we left them for similar reasons. We both wanted to found a company that would sit at the intersection of driving profitable, purposeful business.

Differences are also important, to make sure that as a team you cover all bases. Differences in skills are almost always a strength. Vandana and I have expertise in different areas, which has helped us carve out the areas that we lead within the business. Differences in personality and motivations are less clear cut. If you can harness them, you can get brilliant synergies. If not, they can lead to conflicts, as you are coming at things from a very different direction with a different point of view.

Vandana and I have turned our differences into our secret weapon. When we don’t agree, our common working styles and attitudes help out a lot. We both come in with pretty strong opinions, but generally we are both prepared to be dispassionate about them. We have objective discussions about what should happen. 50% of the time we end up agreeing. 40% of the time, one of us will feel more strongly about it, so we’ll go that way. That means 10% of the time we don’t get to a neat agreement by the end of the conversation.


Then what? Well, there are so many of these decisions to make, it’s important we decide quickly. So we do. We make a call. The “loser” gets behind the decision and goes all in on making it work out. And because we’re both working hard, and we made a call quickly and got to work, it almost always does. When it doesn’t, we strictly avoid any kind of blame game. At most we do a quick retro, call things out so we don’t do them again, and move on. Being dispassionate at the beginning of all this means no one looks like an idiot too! In a startup, everything is an experiment and you won’t get things right all the time.

Having a partner in crime (or progress) has helped me achieve momentum in my startup a lot earlier than I could have hoped on my own. We build more robust strategies and execute them a lot faster than I could hope to achieve as a solo founder. In summary, working with a co-founder (or 2) will increase your success and speed, but finding the right co-founder is critical. Working together in a high-pressure situation is a good way to stress-test working styles, as is validating your instincts with proven personality assessment tests, and giving yourself some time to see the results play out before you commit.

Good luck with your search for your perfect co-founder match!

This article was first published by Katie Fletcher here