Have you ever felt a connection so deep, that your energy levels vibrate on the same wavelength? Your chemistry, values, and passion converge, yet your skill sets complement each other.
Sounds dreamy? Well, that’s when you know that you have found your co-founder also known as your startup soulmate, your perfect match.
“The Yin and Yang, maker and seller, dreamer and pragmatist — call it what you will. After the fact, people may recognise one founder as the innovator, but it takes a team to make a new venture work.” – Guy Kawasaki
Finding your better half guarantees great team dynamics, which in turn leads to a higher chance of entrepreneurial success. Successful companies often start and become successful with the contributions of at least two people, and choosing who you’ll go to battle with is, quite possibly, the most important decision you will ever have to make.
And frankly speaking, soulmates aren’t meant to last forever either, but that’s a whole other topic and for the sake of this article I’ll be focusing on a duo-founder partnership.
The most common challenges faced by founders during the initial stages of company building is their inability to acquire all the skills needed, interests and capacity to manage their workload, hence the right answer is to find that key person that can help strike your balance of complementing and compromising. And how do you do so without settling for less?
After crossing paths with founders of all forms, characters, and baggage from my experiences at The Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC), Entrepreneur First, and Known Singapore-Deep Tech Alliance, I’ve decided to highlight a few consideration points on what an ideal startup soulmate comprises.
What co-founders should match
- Compatibility and chemistry: Your interests and characteristics may differ, but the real key is to find someone with who you share core values and a connection. No doubt opposites attract, you need the right amount of familiarity, and we tend to gravitate towards people that are similar to us, which can help us find clarity when we come together. Nothing will stop you from powering towards achieving your goals once you find that compatible mate.
- Vision: I’ve seen co-founders get engrossed in the development process, later realising they had such diverging views on how to achieve the desired outcome. You’re possibly building a future, and legacy together, hence, your vision should be seen as a compass and not just a road map, you must be moving in the same direction.
- Alignment and expectations: Alignment starts with shared values and motivation towards achieving desirable outcomes while taking into account your personal and professional goals and agenda. One of the most important conversations I’ve seen founders have revolved around their personal agenda, and the need to sacrifice these agendas for the good of the startup.
- Financial compatibility: It’s important for co-founders to find financial compatibility. I’ve seen co-founders fight over differences in spending habits, and the inability to find a common ground can affect the timeline and overall company expenses. In many ways, it’s similar to high-stakes financial decisions in relationship decisions.
- Related interests in the founding team: A big part of the founding team’s success will be shaped based on the founding team’s ideology, background relevance, and insights. One major lesson I’ve learned is that related expertise and specialised understanding and fluency in a specific field give the partnership an unfair advantage. You’ll start feeling excited and enthusiastic about things because you just get each other. It feels ridiculously inspiring to be with someone who will help your ideas start flowing creatively.
- Never settle for less: Finding the perfect co-founder is as tough as finding the right life partner. Your partner could be your greatest asset or liability. Therefore, it should involve a lot of thought and introspection. Take the time, effort, and perseverance to make sure you find a match. Attribute your partner’s must-haves, yes, building a checklist is important to strategically identify what you need!
- Culture: Eighty per cent of your culture is defined by your core leaders, according to First Round review. Hence, core mission, values, and upbringing does cultivate your startup’s identity, wellbeing, and performance dedication.
- Proximity: Long-distance relationships are more difficult to nurture, they tend to survive less. You have enough obstacles to fight when starting a company. Why add an easily avoidable border to the problem? Getting a partner within reach is more efficient, dependable and promotes readiness for communication.
- Commitment: Having a partner who is not fully committed will build up feelings of bitterness and demotivation. It’s common for companies to take three to six months to hire an executive, even a year for some to define – the -relationship, so why shouldn’t you take the same amount of time and effort to find a co-founder? Spending the time to test the depths of the relationship makes sense.
- Passion: Passion is a quality that can’t be manufactured, without passion it’s easy to lose sight and motivation of your goals. You need a partner who rides with you, shares your mission, someone who cares, understands, and wants it as much as you do.
- Equity share of the greater equity pie: Equity conversations create tension if not discussed early on, the truth is the vast majority of your company’s life is in the future, so you should be on as equal a plane as possible. Hence, when joining a startup as a co-founder, knowing where you stand as far as equity is concerned will make a big difference for the long-term health of your relationship.
Sadly, co-founder dynamics causes two-thirds of high-potential startups to fail. Given how many things could go wrong, even in a co-founder soulmate match, there are a few mandatory things to do to maintain a healthy, strong, and productive co-founder partnership.
After all, relationships have their fair share of compromising, such as :
- Agreeing on roles: The reality is that, co-founders are required to be assigned roles that best fit their skills, and profiles, but never deprive yourself of the opportunity to learn and compromise on skills to pick up on a broader range of skills to manage the demands of your startup.
- Managing communication & trust: Communication is powerful and the foundation for a solid partnership. Open, proactive communication and transparency empower partners to voice concerns, reduces relationship debt – a negative sentiment that’s accumulated from unresolved feelings. Building trust and vulnerability from the start is important to uncover healthy conflict. Sweeping issues will lead to serious red flags, therefore, partners should have hard and deep conversations.
- Zero-ego clash: Honeymoon phases don’t last forever, eventually you’ll end up fighting. There will be times where you’d end up going against your own ego, anger, and fear. Thus, when a fight occurs, stay humble and dare to recognise your own mistakes to avoid emotional residues. In a fixed mindset – you’re focusing on proving yourself, whereas, with a growth mindset, you try to improve yourself. Aim to have a growth mindset, and healthy ego.
- Working hours: Mostly under looked by founders. According to a new research, the happiest couples go to bed at the same time. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Because this will affect the synchronisation of your ability to collaborate.
- Emotional support: Data shows entrepreneurs are more likely to fall into depression. Rightfully, a pillar of support is needed to overcome the tough challenges ahead, as a team, you’re always going to be each other’s cheerleader and support system.
Having a co-founder who is a polar opposite isn’t the goal, neither is a co-founder who is a clone of yourself, the reality still falls with shared values – not to mention, similar work ethic as you’re going to be spending the majority of your work hours together. There are desirable differences that are essential.
What co-founders should be different at (also known as desirable differences)
- Expertise: Apple couldn’t have existed without both Steves. Every company needs Steve Jobs (Seller) and Steve Wozniak (Builder). It is wiser to get someone from a different background, this allows you to amplify your strength to its advantage.
- Perspective: Yin and Yang is one of the fundamental theories that can help you make a balanced decision. Different mindsets such as; Right vs Left brain, Creative vs Rational, Business vs Tech can optimise to achieve equilibrium. Thus, having a broader and diversity of perspectives brings in fresh ideas, this involves having intellectual and creative differences that can drive towards stronger strategic making choices.
Summary of consideration points when finding a soulmate
- Think about your core values
- Know your deal breakers
- Take into account: Emotional, Intellectual, Spiritual, Financial & Educational elements
- Stay open-minded about straying away from your checklist
- Timing, readiness & stability
- Exposure and familiarity with upbringing
- Personality and character
- Source for finding a co-founder (Accelerators, Incubators, Hackathons, founder dating apps, startup forums and events, FB groups, others)
Not all partners create magic together either, but those who do find their co-founder (aka startup soulmate), are a rare fated match made in heaven. And as I highlighted earlier, at times, your first co-founder isn’t meant to last forever, and finding your perfect match doesn’t necessarily always guarantee your startup success, sometimes, you’re fated with multiple co-founders, for some, they end up solo.
So no matter who you choose to become your co-founder, you need to make sure that it’s someone whom you trust, like, and feel like you can conquer the world with. Skills and the best network in the world will not save your business if you simply can’t get rid of ego, your co-founder is your partner in life, who’s meant to care about going through the journey with you and reaching the end goal as a team.
Your co-founder really is your better half. The winner is ultimately decided by a subjective internal process and a whole lot of chemistry.
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