How do you choose a co-founder

How do you choose the right co-founder?

A contribution by Claudia Michalski, founding and career advisor and managing director of the consulting company OMC

Three quarters of all startups are founded by a team, reports the Startup Monitor 2019, usually in pairs. At the same time, studies show that conflicts in the founding team are one of the top reasons for startups to fail. Why is the separation rate among founders so high? And how can one avoid fundamental conflicts among co-founders?

Quite simply: by looking carefully and analyzing it in advance of founding the company. Do we fit together? And not as friends, but as a business marriage, which ideally also works under stress. There are some basic attitudes that should be the same for both founders. The situation is different with personality traits - it is better if both entrepreneurs differ and thus complement each other.

Which attitudes should be the same in the founding team?

  1. Start-up strategy: One plans the exit after three years at the latest, the other is more purpose-driven and would like to fulfill a socially relevant business purpose on a permanent basis. Unicorn versus zebra. It can then become difficult with the joint exit strategy. If this point has not been clarified before the establishment or at the latest in the seed phase, there is a risk of conflicts later.
  2. Value system: Someone would like to accelerate indefinitely, work around the clock and already see a free Sunday as a vacation. Performance is the top priority. Family is also important to the other person, he would like to see his children in the evenings during the week and leave the office on time. In the long run, the anger is inevitable.
  3. Leadership culture: One expects blind allegiance from his employees and is critical of suggestions from the team. The other lives an open corporate culture based on trust and harmony. With such different ideas about leadership behavior, it becomes difficult to build a company together.
However, just as important as a similar basic attitude to the company are complementary personality traits in a founding team. Basically, you tend towards people who are similar to you. You look for your Mini-Me intuitively because it's familiar and convenient. However, different personalities are helpful in building a company:
  1. Contact strength: A combination of extrovert and introvert
    If you yourself are more extroverted, sociable and have good communication skills, then look for an introverted co-founder who, in case of doubt, controls the IT and the processes. You go in front of the camera and on stage, your partner organizes the operations. He or she is no less important because it has to work both outside and inside the company.
  2. Decision-making behavior: A combination of analytical and intuitive
    Do you tend to be critical, question connections and therefore sometimes find it difficult to make a decision? Then look for a co-founder who works intuitively, doesn't ponder for a long time, but decides quickly based on gut instinct. The combination of the Excel file and intuition will bring you to a good decision that you are both comfortable with.
  3. structure: A combination of planned and open
    Your partner needs a precise plan before starting, creates a fixed structure for the day and then carries out the project in a disciplined manner. You are more open, let things come your way and you are also good at handling surprises. You never know what the day will be like. This is the best prerequisite that you will complement each other perfectly. One person makes sure that the projects don't fade away in everyday life, the other will find creative solutions when the world collapses again.

If you as a founding team maneuver your way through this list, it can be difficult to assess yourself and the co-founder personally. It therefore makes sense to call in a neutral advisor who will support you in the decision-making process for or against the joint establishment. On the basis of a valid personality test, he or she can give you valuable and, above all, completely neutral information about your personalities - as a kind of marriage advice before the business wedding. This greatly reduces the risk of divorce later on.

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