Most startups can benefit from having at least one co-founder, but it’s very common for first-time founders not to know exactly how to find a co-founder - especially the right co-founder.
If you find yourself in the position of looking for a co-founder for your startup, but you’re not sure where to start, this guide will tell you everything you need to know.
Why Have a Co-Founder?
Before we dive into how to find a co-founder for your startup, let’s take a look at all the reasons why you should find a co-founder.
For starters, companies with co-founders tend to be more productive than startups where just one founder is responsible for everything. When you’re able to divide the most important work between at least two people, you can get much more done in less time.
Sure, you can always hire employees to tackle certain tasks, but there are some things that only founders can and should be doing, such as meeting with investors and defining overall business strategies.
Not only does having a co-founder save time by dividing up the heavy lifting, it also improves the quality of your work. Simply having another person to bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with can go a long way towards ensuring your startup gets off on the right foot.
Also, if you partner with a co-founder who has a complementary set of skills to yours (which you should), they can do certain tasks that you might struggle with, take a long time to figure out, or not be able to do at all.
Another reason you should look for a co-founder for your startup is that they can provide extremely valuable moral support.
Launching a brand new company is an emotionally and mentally draining experience, and it can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety when things aren’t going exactly as planned (and they almost never do).
But, when you have another individual who is as invested in the success of your company as you are, they can help lift your spirits and keep you motivated during trying moments. This goes both ways, too — if your co-founder is feeling down or frustrated about something, you can help them find the motivation to push through the difficulties and keep striving for success together.
The final most important reason for bringing a co-founder onboard to your company is that many of the most successful startups throughout history have had co-founders.
Think about it: Microsoft had Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Apple had Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniack, and Ronald Wayne, Google had Larry Page and Sergey Brin, PayPal had Elon Musk and Peter Thiel… you get the picture.
If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this: a previous analysis we did of 1,000 unicorn companies showed that 755 (75.5%) of them had two or more founders, while just 245 (24.5%) had a single founder.
If you dream of your startup becoming the next unicorn, having a co-founder will greatly increase your odds of earning a spot among the most successful startups of our time by fitting in with their successful formula of having more than one founder.
Is It Possible To Start Without a Co-Founder?
While it’s certainly true that many of the most successful companies were founded by more than one person, it’s still possible to succeed without a co-founder. For example, Jeff Bezos founded Amazon alone, and never partnered with a co-founder.
However, single founders generally need to have some very specific personality traits and characteristics in order to succeed on their own.
For one, they usually firmly believe in and feel very strongly about the problem they are solving with their companies, often because it is a personal problem or one that feels close to home for them. This drives them to put everything into their project until it succeeds, never looking back.
The second trait of successful solo founders is that they have the technical skills and expertise to succeed in advancing their startups all on their own. For instance, they are able to build an MVP, acquire users/customers, and seek out funding without the help of a co-founder.
That being said, just because you start a company without a co-founder doesn’t mean you can’t bring one into your startup later. Many successful startup founders have begun companies on their own, then partnered with a co-founder during an opportune moment.
In fact, the best time to bring a co-founder onboard is typically when you don’t need one — a co-founder can provide a welcome boost of productivity and energy when you and your product/service are already experiencing some success and traction, but need another executive with certain technical skills or other characteristics.
What To Look For in a Co-Founder?
Whether you want to partner with a co-founder right from the start or you are looking for a co-founder after your company has already been up and running for a while, there are certain things you should look for in a co-founder in order to ensure you choose the right person.
One of the first things you should look for in your co-founder is experience. In order for that individual to be able to scale and grow with the company, they should have the right combination of knowledge and skills (or the capacity to learn them as needed).
This is especially true if there are certain areas of expertise that you lack knowledge and skills in — remember that you should be looking for a co-founder who balances you out and complements you in terms of technical skills and experience.
If you can find a co-founder who has already founded companies in the past, this is a huge bonus, as they will have already experienced many of the things that your startup will be going through in its early days and will know how to solve many common problems.
Another important characteristic to look at in potential co-founders is how they handle stress. As we mentioned earlier, running a startup is inevitably stressful and draining, so you want to partner with someone who isn’t going to break under all that stress.
Of course, it’s hard to know how a complete stranger handles stress, which is one of the reasons why it’s almost always best to partner with someone from your personal network, who you already know well enough to understand how they deal with pressure and challenges.
If you do end up partnering with someone you don’t know that well personally, make sure they have experienced and successfully handled prior stressful work environments. This is when choosing a co-founder who has already founded companies can be an even more ideal option.
Lastly, when you’re talking to potential co-founders, make sure to ask them what their goals and reasons for wanting to start a company are and ensure they align with your own.
For example, if you want to minimize risks and take a slow, measured approach to building your company, you probably shouldn’t partner with a co-founder who wants to take a lot of risks and push your company forward at an extremely fast pace.
Be cautious of anyone who seems like they want to be a co-founder for egotistical reasons — there are lots of people out there who claim to be “entrepreneurs,” but they don’t have any real skills or experience to back it up.
By now you should have a good understanding of why you should look for a co-founder and how to find a co-founder that complements you and your company, but you’re probably wondering where to find this person.
As we touched on earlier, the best place to start looking for a co-founder is within your personal network. People you’ve worked with, gone to school with, or are friends with make good co-founders because you already have an idea of their personalities and skills and understand how they could fit with you and your company.
However, if you can’t find a co-founder within your personal network, there are other channels to meet one through. These include social networks, co-founder matchmaking sites, startup-oriented online communities, events and conferences, and special programs like startup incubators and startup accelerators.
As you consider how to find a co-founder for your startup, keep in mind that the best time to start looking for a co-founder is before you find yourself in the position of absolutely having to find a co-founder. This allows you to meet the perfect founding partner organically, rather than rushing into a partnership that could be less than ideal and end up hurting your business.
One of the most natural places to start identifying potential co-founders is within your circle of friends. Think about your close friends and make notes of who you think it would be cool to work on a startup project with and why.
Make sure any of your friends who you think you could work on a business idea with have the characteristics you should look for in a co-founder mentioned above. Just because someone is your friend and you get along with them doesn’t mean they would make a good co-founder, and going into business with the wrong friend could ruin your friendship.
2) Friends of Friends
Once you’ve evaluated your own circle of friends and identified potential co-founders, you can start looking beyond your close friends. Friends of friends who you might not know as well, but still have a personal connection to, are another potential source of business partners.
For example, perhaps your best friend knows someone who is always working on some type of entrepreneurial project or who is studying coding. You could ask your friend to introduce you to the person and get to know them to see if they might be a good fit to work on a startup with.
If you’re in university, it’s a perfect time to start looking for a co-founder for a future startup, especially if you already know you want to start your own company either during or after you finish studying.
Try to get to know people in your classes and social circles who have certain skills and traits that you would look for in a co-founder. Ask them if they would ever be interested in starting a company down the road to get a feel for who might be open to being your future company’s co-founder.
4) Previous Jobs
Colleagues from jobs you’ve had are another great type of personal contact to consider for finding a co-founder.
Think back to people you worked with (or are currently working with) and come up with a list of people you consider intelligent, capable, and skilled enough to be your business partner. Reach out to them and ask them to go for a coffee. Tell them you’re thinking of launching a startup and are looking for people who would be interested in getting onboard as your co-founder.
Social media platforms, like Twitter, provide opportunities to connect with like-minded people outside your own personal circles.
To find a co-founder on Twitter, try searching using certain hashtags related to startups or the industry you want to found a company in. This will pull up threads of Tweets, which you can browse through to identify interesting individuals. Then, message them directly to introduce yourself and start a conversation.
However, the best way to get to know people on Twitter is organically, which you can do by Tweeting often, interacting with people who follow you and Retweet or reply to your Tweets, and replying to others’ Tweets. When you do these types of activities regularly, you might end up connecting with your future co-founder completely by accident.
Reddit has a subreddit dedicated to finding co-founders: r/cofounder. Try posting on this subreddit to get in contact with other entrepreneurs who are also looking for co-founders. Clearly state who/what you are looking for to help narrow down the search.
There are also tons of other subreddits dedicated to startups, business, and certain industries/sectors, so it’s worth checking out some of these other areas of Reddit as well.
Since LinkedIn is a social networking site strictly for professionals, it’s another great place to look for your co-founder.
Try joining different LinkedIn groups related to your industry or startups in general to connect with people who might be interested in working on a project together. If you’re looking for a co-founder with a specific set of skills, you can also join groups related to that particular area of expertise.
Another way to find a co-founder on LinkedIn is to post about your search for a partner. Someone already in your network might be interested, or can connect you with someone in their network who is.
Sign up for this service and create a profile to get matched with potential co-founders based on your preferences, including interests, skills, location, and more.
YCombinator pre-screens thousands of founders to help ensure quality matches. You can browse through all the profiles that match your preferences and send messages to connect with anyone whose profile interests you.
CoFoundersLab is another network for entrepreneurs seeking co-founders, as well as mentors and advisors.
The network of over 35,000 individuals offers a free plan that lets you connect with up to five potential co-founders each month. There are also paid plans that allow you to connect with more people and place your profile higher in search results for other founders.
StartHawk’s online platform is dedicated to helping startup founders meet their co-founders. To get started, create a free profile on the site and enter details about yourself and your business idea.
After your profile is complete, StartHawk’s algorithm shows you potential matches, who you can then message or add to your contacts. There are also filtering options to help you refine your co-founder match results even further.
StartHawk also offers a paid pro plan that gives you unlimited messaging and makes your profile more visible in search results.
11) Indie Hackers
Indie Hackers is an online community for entrepreneurs. The community has a special group called Looking to Partner Up, which is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs find business partners.
Indie Hackers groups function a bit like subreddits or other social media threads, with users being able to create and comment on posts to connect with other members.
So, you could create a post describing a bit about your company/idea and the type of co-founder you’re looking for to try and meet a match among Indie Hacker’s 16,000-strong community.
FoundersList is another online community for entrepreneurs. If you’re in the market for a co-founder, try creating a profile on FoundersList and go to the platform’s dedicated co-founders page. There you can filter through a list of people looking for co-founders by location, business stage, and co-founder type.
FoundersList also has plenty of other startup groups where you can take part in discussions and connect with other entrepreneurs, so there are a lot of potential ways to meet a co-founder on the site. The platform also maintains a list of in-person events, so you may be able to find an event near you to network with people face to face.
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13) Events & Conferences
Startup-focused events and conferences are another great forum to meet a potential co-founder. There are even founder “speed dating” events that aim to connect co-founders in person.
If you live in or near a local city, chances are there are regular monthly events that you can attend. Just do a quick Google search for startup events and conferences near you and put them on your calendar!
14) Incubators & Accelerators
Startup accelerators and startup incubators are great places to meet business partners because you’ll be working side-by-side with other founders, as well as mentors and advisors who may be able to connect you to co-founders outside of the program.
When you’re working in the shared office space of an incubator or accelerator, make the effort to get to know others who are there and ask them about what they’re working on.
You might find someone who has a similar idea to yours and decide to combine forces, or you might meet someone who’s working on something that could complement your idea and form a business partnership to integrate your products.
Both startup accelerators and incubators are excellent options to help you get your startup off the ground, but there are some key differences that you should be aware of.
The biggest difference is that accelerators are usually highly competitive and require you to have an MVP to even be considered for acceptance. Incubators, on the other hand, are much more relaxed, and are more suited to startups that are just in the idea stage.
So, the stage your startup is in when you’re looking for a co-founder can help guide your decision about whether a startup incubator or accelerator may be a good place to find your future partner.
How To Evaluate a Co-Founder?
One of the best ways to evaluate whether a particular person would make a good co-founder is to try working on a small, time-boxed project with them.
In other words, rather than working on THE big idea that you have for a business, you could just pick something that you have a common interest in and try developing a product together within a set timeframe.
For example, if you and a friend of yours are both studying app development, you could try building a simple app and see how it feels working on the project together.
Make sure to set clear expectations and goals for the project, including who will be responsible for what, in order to evaluate your compatibility.
When you’re just experimenting and working on small projects like this, you can even work on multiple things with different people to evaluate various potential co-founders. Then, when you feel like you click with someone, you can discuss working on a bigger business idea together.
Once you do choose a co-founder to work on a startup idea with, a good practice is to agree on a timeline for building an MVP or prototype together. Then, once you meet that deadline together, you should sit down and have an honest conversation about how everything went and decide if you enjoyed working together and want to continue to do so.
How To Split Equity?
Many first-time founders are unsure of how to split equity with their co-founders. While you might be tempted to offer an uneven split, considering the fact that you’ve been working on your idea for longer, it’s almost always best to split equity 50/50.
An even split ensures that both you and your co-founder are equally committed to the company and make the same contributions in terms of time and effort. If you’re inviting a late-stage co-founder, splitting equity evenly especially helps make sure they are equally as motivated as you.
If you doubt that your co-founder will commit to the project as much as you, and this is the reason why you are hesitant to split equity 50/50, perhaps you should reconsider your choice of co-founder, instead of trying to come up with a different way to split equity.
Define Who Is the CEO
Besides deciding how to split equity, determining who the CEO will be is one of the other big, important decisions co-founders have to discuss with each other in the early stages of starting a company.
In practice, it doesn’t make a big difference who the CEO is, since you and your co-founder should be splitting equity in the company evenly and you will both be putting in the same amount of work and effort.
The biggest impact the CEO can make is when pitching investors, so you should make sure the person you give the title to is the more personable, sociable, and engaging one. If you’re more of a behind-the-scenes person, and your partner is more of a talker and a marketer, consider making them the CEO.
If you think you would both make great CEOs, the natural choice might be to make the person who came up with the initial business idea the CEO. If the person who started the company is you, your co-founder shouldn’t have a problem with you being the CEO.
However, if you both want to be CEO and you can’t agree on giving one person or the other the title, you probably shouldn’t be co-founders. If there is any conflict when having this conversation, or even if it just feels uncomfortable, it can be a big warning sign that there could be more, bigger problems down the road.
After you’ve found your co-founder, evaluated working with them, decided how to split equity, and determined who is the CEO, it’s time to formalize the arrangement.
This means doing the legal paperwork to found your company together and put everything you’ve agreed upon regarding equity and other arrangements into written, signed contracts.
Once all the formalities are taken care of, keep pushing forward together and striving to turn your enterprise into a success!
And, as you work together, keep in mind all the things you were looking for in a co-founder, and try to have all those qualities yourself for your business partner. Remember to help motivate them and pick them up when there are stressful days or moments and focus on balancing each other's skills out to maximize productivity.