Finding a Co-Founder… a Partner

April 2, 2019

Finding a co-founder or business partner is probably the second most important decision you make after deciding to start a company.

Probably one of the most critical… maybe the third most important thing you do after telling your spouse you’re starting a company!

Chances are, if you are starting a company on your own, you soon realize how lonely it can be at the top, how overwhelmed you can become, and how important the leverage factor is to your company’s success.

Let’s face it, you cannot do everything on your own!

At the same time, not everyone needs a business partner, especially if you are building a mono-line product/ company, or a service business based on your own technical skills.

There are multiple ways of leveraging yourself without giving up control.

But then of course, creating alignments, especially with truly great people, is very difficult without sharing in profits, ownership, and more importantly -cashflow!

I’ve been involved in several startups and service businesses since I decided to move away from the typical corporate environment in 2012.

In the early years, I didn’t understand the ego attached to grandiose titles like founder, founding partner, or co-founder… frankly I think it’s still a bit overrated.

I think to myself at times, “you’re the Founder, CEO, President, Partner of what? …a company with ZERO employees or maybe a couple of contractors!”

Give me a break!

I can probably spend all day telling you what I think it doesn’t mean.

During my first couple of startups, I wasn’t a co-founder — nor an employee -but someone who stepped up to an opportunity that could utilize my skill set.

I knew I could drive value in the company.

And like many of this pedigree, the opportunity fizzled after several months of hard work.

But, I learned early on in my career the power of leverage, but more importantly, leveraging yourself at the top so you can stay focused on what’s important, such as business development or people strategy.

A close mentor once told me…

“A partnership is one that helps you create a 1+1=10 outcome.”

Although a seemingly linear equation, the inputs into the “1” is as diverse as the people, and like any marriage, achieving a “10” isn’t something created effortlessly overnight.

Like any relationship, if you are overly focused on who the “1” has to be versus prioritizing the “nice-to-haves”, you may actually end up losing out on many opportunists along the way.

Last year, we sat down with an entrepreneur who was doing the typical “right” things a scaling startup should do; fundraising, product development, customer acquisition, etc.

However the most obvious thing he needed was a business partner with complimentary skills.

And of course, in my usual style… I told him, “you need a business partner.”

Here are two resilient and incredible partners:

Munger and Buffett Credit: Robyn Twomey

In Your Search for a Partner, Only You are Your Limiting Factor

So here are 5 things to think about in finding a business partner:

  • Take inventory of your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Develop a strategic road map highlighting the major functional milestones.
  • Now, ask yourself in the context of your strategy: What core competencies does the company need in its DNA vs. What capabilities can it can buy, rent or borrow.
  • Think exponentially and don’t let the constraints of your history, ego, investments, etc., limit your potential. Don’t rush, but commit yourself in mind, body, and soul.
  • Network the old fashion dating way… meet people, talk, date, test drive, break bread, meet their spouses and families, get to know what’s important to them and be open… but also be open to not limiting yourself, because he/she might actually surprise you!

1+1=10… if you just give yourself the chance…

A good partnership starts with open dialogue about what’s important to each other and always in the context of the business.

Not everyone you meet is partner material for you, and your situation might not be a partner fit for others.

Potential partners that start a relationship without understanding each other’s needs is destined for failure.

But then again, hitting a “10” takes time and patience… but more importantly, it’s old school style… it takes a “1” and “1”.

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