Having no cofounder is one of the mistakes that can kill your startup. It’s up there with having an unsustainable burning rate, going after a small niche and executing on a derivative and unscalable idea.

In his essay highlighting 18 mistakes that can hinder a founder’s chance at success, Paul Graham points to ‘single founder’ as a leading cause of startups’ death. Starting a business is exciting, but it’s hard. Incredibly so. After a while, you are left struggling to keep your head above the water and keep from going crazy. What is worse is going through that alone.

Building a successful company without a cofounder is possible. A handful of businesses in Silicon Valley and other tech clusters across the world have succeeded with one founder at the helms. However, the journey can be easier and faster with at least two people rather than one.

The startup stress is simply too heavy for one person to bear. Investors also balk at the idea of investing in a company with one founder. Adam Callinan, a venture investor with Beachwood Ventures, puts it this way: “If the founder burns him or herself out or gets hit by a beer truck, both the company and our investment are likely gone — sorry to be morose, it’s just reality…it’s just not worth the risk as an investor.”

Going it alone has its merits. You have more of the company to yourself and avoid cofounder horror stories. But there is a strong case for a co-founder.

“Entrepreneurship is a team sport. One person can do only so much.” – Steve Case.

One of the best ways to find a business is from your existing connections – proven friends or acquittance. However, events and websites like StartupWeekend and CoFounderLab have been known to help. It can also help to cold-call a mentor like Iyin Aboyeji of Andela did with Jeremy Johnson.

Choosing someone to start a business with is a lot like choosing who to marry. You will likely spend more time with your co-founder than you’ll spend with your spouse. Before you start this partnership, here are essential qualities you should look for in a co-founder.

1. Relationship

It’s great if you and the potential cofounder have known each other for a while.

Although you can’t fully understand people, it’s worse when this person is an absolute mystery. It’s important to find someone you can get along with out of work. Someone with whom you can have fun. You need to like your co-founder. Your chances of success thins out significantly if you can’t get along with your co-founder.

2. Trust

Money has a way of pitting people’s interest against one another. Select your cofounder based on the level of trust you have in their ability to look after your interest when you are not there. Trust is built over time and often through peaks and troughs. Ideally, you want to start your business with someone you can trust with your life.

3. Dedication to the mission

At Amazon, Jeff Bezos calls every task a mission. It’s symbolism for the gravity with which the staff is expected to take their duties.

Does your co-founder share that gravity?

Both of you need to be invested in the company. Align your interests in the problem you are taking on. And your commitment to solving it with your product.

4. Complementary skills and matching values

Complementary expertise and matching values are by far the most important quality to look for in a co-founder. While your values, moral compass, and ethics should match, you need someone whose strengths balance your weaknesses.

“At a minimum, a startup needs at least one person to make the product (Steve Wozniak) and one person to sell it (Steve Jobs). – Guy Kawasaki.

If all you have is your liberal arts degree and passion for entrepreneurship, you need to find a cofounder who can code. It helps the business when both of you take different approaches to work. You challenge yourself and can make well-rounded decisions. Pooling different skill-sets also mean it’s easier to define your specific roles.

5. Adaptability and openness

There will be surprises as the business trundle along. You will disprove assumptions, and you may even need to change the business entirely. It’s important that your cofounder is flexible and able to take pitfalls in stride.

Being adaptable and open makes your life easier. You don’t want to be the shrink always convincing your co-founder not to give up. Also, you want your co-founder to be open, not only to changes but about their feelings. They need to share their thoughts on the business and your relationship.

6. Do a driving test with you potential cofounder

Finally, it is important to test-drive a business relationship with your potential cofounder before you set things in stone. This is not only useful for people you meet at a founder’s dating event, but also for friends you’ve known for a while.

Chances are, you and your friend have never dealt with other people’s money and intense pressure before. Money changes people. Pressure too. Past behavior is a good prediction of future conduct. This trial period helps you see how you do in the trenches together and use it to predict how you’ll survive the real mortar.

Share off hours and extra-work activities to learn more about the person with whom you are about to share your entrepreneurial journey.

The only thing worse than starting a company alone is starting it with the wrong cofounder. It won’t be a plain sail with a co-founder, but you will last longer in the trenches with the right co-founder watching your back.

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Growth is the only essential thing you need to be a startup. Startups are created to grow fast. Everything else that happens within a startup is a derivative of growth.

Everything – ideation, product validation, product management, team building, fundraising – follows from growth. Without growth, early stage startup is just a small business losing money.

That is why founders are encouraged to focus on one metric – the one that matters. This is because, as a startup, your limited resources are a deterrent to wasting your time trying different things.

Depending on your type of business, growth will mean different things to different startups. And your one metric that matter changes over time. Getting rid of distractions enables you to focus your already limited resources – people, time, and money – on the one thing that moves the needle.

What is the one thing that signifies that your business is growing at a particular point in time?

In the beginning, growth for a lot of startups has more to do with user acquisition and engagement than revenue. The advantage of defining your growth metric is it tells you the most important thing about your startup and how should drive it.

You need to consider the followings when choosing your growth parameter.

1. Your business model

The way you monetize your product is an indication of the value that will be created by your business. It’s not always about the money, but revenue metrics provides a standard benchmark for growth metrics.

2. How you acquire your customers

The rate at which your products gets into the hands of users is a substantial measure of how scalable and successful your product can be. Inherent in the DNA of startups is the ability to build products that have the potential of being ubiquitous and viral within a short time frame.

That is why most startups are tech-enabled companies because technology enables innovation not just in the way products are made, but how they are distributed. You can measure your growth based on metrics such as unique web visits, page views, app downloads, partner signups, user signups, conversion rate, churn rate, etc.

3. The stage of your business

The stage of your company will determine what to focus on. Early stage business should be obsessed about metrics that validates their product-market fit more than mid or late stage companies.

In the beginning, your growth metric is based on time-based milestones you need to reach such as partnerships, signup at a particular time, user signup rate, number of feature releases, etc. It is important that you wrap this with specific numbers as much as possible to measure progress.

4. How you measure growth

Answering this question will help you make right decisions. Let’s assume you decide to measure your growth by the number of subscribers to your email list. First, you’ll have to optimise your product, website, app, content and every potential user interactions to grow this list.

You then measure the results of all your actions on a regular basis against this metric. You hold yourself and your team accountable with data and see whether you are making progress or not. You deep dive into all your acquisition channels to identify where you are getting the most number of subscribers. You look at the numbers every day and experiment with various tactics and tools to see how you can grow the subscription rate.

As you focus on a particular growth metric and optimise your products accordingly, magic happens. You identify particular big hairy destinations to drive your startup towards and you can measure the how and the rate at which you are getting there. And as you grow, your goal may change, and you redefine your growth metric.

You build, you measure, you learn.  And you continue the cycle until you reach your true north.

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