The decision to launch or operate your business with someone else is very important, and finding the right person is even more critical.
The benefits of having someone to share these responsibilities with are numerous. You have someone to help tackle projects to get more work done, someone who has skills that you may not, and someone to share ideas and collaborate with.
The terms “co-founder” and “business partner” are very similar and are often used interchangeably to describe these types of relationships. However, there are a couple of small differences.
A co-founder is usually someone you build your business with and is there at creation. This person shares responsibilities and helps make decisions. This term is often used for the founders of startup companies and websites. A business partner is similar as far as duties go, but it can apply to either companies or individuals who are involved in each other’s business dealings to some degree (for example, a clothing manufacturer may enter a partnership with a cotton supplier). In a partnership, the members typically enter a partnership agreement.
How to Choose
Who you choose to be your business partner or co-founder is almost as important as your decision to start a business. Look for someone who:
- Shares your vision and has similar ideas for the company mission and growth of the business. Have a conversation about these topics, and make sure you are on the same page. When will you be willing to compromise on your mission, and when do you expect to stick it out?
- Has complementary skill sets to yours. This will benefit the company by providing different backgrounds and abilities, allowing you both to work on the things at which you are strongest.
- Has strong business sense and commitment. Don’t choose someone just because they are a friend or family member; be sure they are willing to go the distance and that they have either business experience or the critical-thinking skills and work ethic to learn quickly.
- Complements your personality. You will need someone you get along with and can build a strong relationship with, but it’s also important to find someone who fills in your gaps (if your partner is better at speaking with people and building relationships, and you’re better at focusing at your desk, your differing personality traits can both be useful in different ways).
- Comes with a solid track record. If you don’t know the person well enough to know how they have done with previous ownership or management duties, ask for a resume and references. Search for them on social media, and speak with former colleagues and/or managers. Don’t be afraid to dig; this person will share the responsibility of making big decisions that will affect your business and your livelihood.
- Has a strong work ethic and is cooperative in a work environment. You will be sharing duties and won’t have time to check in and make sure this person is holding his or her own. Make sure the other person will not only be responsible, but has a track record of going above and beyond. This person will also likely be managing people if your company grows, so try to choose someone who is amicable and gets along with people.
Be patient when trying to find a good fit for you and your business, as it may take time to find the right person. Co-founders are the last people that you want to “settle” on, since they can make or break your business. Try to remain objective when seeking a partner; don’t just choose someone because you like him or her.
Best Ways to Meet
Although you may know what you are looking for in a business partner or co-founder, you may not know where to look. There are many resources available to find the right person as long as you are willing to expand your network and ask. Consider these recommendations:
- Many people choose to start a business with similar-minded family members.
- Look inside your immediate circle of friends, coworkers, colleagues and former classmates for someone who shares similar ideas, has the right skills and fits your criteria. LinkedIn is a great resource for networking and reconnecting with people you may have lost touch with (it also allows you to easily browse their work history and skills). You can also join LinkedIn groups to find people in your industry or areas of interest. Learn more about LinkedIn networking here.
- Consider posting an advertisement on Craigslist. You may be surprised by the responses and, at the very least, will have a pool of new contacts.
- Attend meet-ups or business mixers where entrepreneurs will likely be in attendance. Meetup.com and Eventbrite are great resources for finding groups of people with similar interests in your area. Your local Chamber of Commerce will also have events that will allow you to interact with other business professionals in your area.
- Consider other places where entrepreneurs may be in your community: business classes, workshops, conferences, etc. Check with colleges and universities in your area, your local newspaper’s event section, or join an online group that posts about local events regularly.
- CoFoundersLab.com is an online resource that matches people with a potential business partner, finding complementary people based on skills, personalities and goals. The site filters entrepreneurs by roles, location and industry, and it allows you to post ads and search a large group of potential candidates.
If you want even more information on finding and vetting a partner, check out this free course on finding and working with co-founders.