These days, more startups are going the route of launching with multiple co-founders and building traction on the side before eliminating the team’s full-time income. While bringing on a co-founder can increase your likelihood of success, there’s no denying that a bad co-founder can quickly sink any side project before it has time to flourish.
So how do you ensure that you pick a reliable cofounder? I had the opportunity to sit down and interview co-founders Jen Kessler and Chiara McPhee of the email marketing platform Bizzy (recently acquired by SendGrid), as well as investor Kat Mañalac of Y Combinator, who recognized their potential and helped them through the accelerator program.
During our interviews, it became clear that a few key qualities can make all the difference in determining whether someone will truly be a reliable co-founder. So which attributes matter most? Let’s take a look.
1. Skills complimentary to yours.
One thing that quickly became apparent in both interviews was the importance of complementary skill sets. Mañalac explained, “You want to work with someone who isn’t a clone of yourself. …Maybe one person is more technical and more product-focused, and the other person is more focused on sales and talking to customers. Ideally you’ll have complimentary skills.”
Kessler further expounded on this when she noted, “When you are a small team with limited resources, you need to make sure that everybody brings something new to the table and has distinct roles and responsibilities.
Simply put, your company isn’t going to last very long if you and your co-founder are both programming experts but have zero marketing experience. Your founding team needs to have a broad range of skills to successfully manage the many demands of running your own startup.
2. Niche-specific experience.
An additional area to consider with complimentary skill sets is the importance of at least one of the founders bringing niche-specific experience to help guide the company’s development. As Mañalac noted, this can make a strong impression on investors, because, “when founders are building something to solve a problem they’ve experienced, they’re much more tightly tied to that problem and they understand the problems and user base more intuitively.”
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