From good to great co-founders

Finding a Great co-founder

Finding a Great co-founder is like lottery. And when you find one it’s like marriage. It’s what makes or breaks companies. And its not any co-founder, it’s the “right” co-founder which complements you and fills in your weak spots. You need a Great co-founder.

Many people want to do something in business. They day dream and talk it big like it’s happening. But when the time comes to crunch and the need to sacrifice their life style (change) the tune begins to change. This is why this cuts out about 90% of the want to be co-founder pool.

Google Co-founders - Larry Page & Sergey Brin

Google Co-founders - Larry Page & Sergey Brin

Finding the right co-founder is as most people say like getting into marriage. It’s not easy but doable. And you will have rough patches that you need to be able to get over and move forward. There are many discussions online on how & where to find the right co-founder. The reality of the fact is it’s probably slightly better chance then winning lottery.

Benefits of a Great co-founder

Having a great co-founder helps with being able to bounce ideas off each other, technically support each other, emotional support and give you a chance at getting into Y Combinator like incubators. Most of these incubators only accept +1 co-founders for this very good reason.

“Successful single-founder startups are so rare that they’re famous on that account.” ~ Paul Graham from Y Combinator.

From good to great co-founders

From good to great co-founders

Most of all successful businesses became successful only after pivoting due to market demands or circumstances. Just read Jessica Livingstone’s Founders at Work. Jessica covers most of the successful companies today and how they did not start off with what they are famous for today. Or take a peek at Steve Blanks’s latest book The Startup Manual where he shares his years of research that startups and enterprises are different in the fact that enterprises are executing on a proven business model while startups are finding (pivoting) to one which will hopefully stick. Hence what we see in Jessica’s book on founders success and also having a founder which has the right mindset to pivot with you when required.

Ok enough about this common knowledge. Here are 3 core lessons I learnt and believe will help you on your quest as well.

School of hard knocks

a. Cut out the business folks.

Especially those that can talk well. They are good later on but not in the initial stages when all you need to do is build a kick ass product. A kick ass product will sell itself. And if you are a true entrepreneur you will also know how to sell it and develop the product.

I also found that the business folks will have a tendency to burn money for unnecessary “business development tasks” which as I said above are not needed. Maybe it’s a way they try to justify their existence early on. The best way I believe they can justify it is by learning to be technical and add value that way. That is the only way I would have a business co-founder if he rolled his sleeves up and got into the code & supported the development efforts. Once they become more technical they will also understand (and appreciate) why certain fixes, changes or piece of work really takes hours and not fluffy minutes.

b. Cut out those that cannot deliver.

Probably the single best advice I can give you. You will be surprised how many cannot deliver.

Stay focused & keep shipping

Some people that used to be able to deliver once may not today. It is a proven fact the environment changes people. People do not change alone. Your environment dictates your actions. The rest, just get better at being an actor. (ref Zod’s 10 Axioms). Separating those that “are” in the game vs those that “say” they are in the game will save you plenty of headaches. I learnt this the painful way many times over. Even with folks that had a kickass background but just couldn’t deliver a minimum viable product.

“No Talk, All Action”

Delivery is such a key point here that I cannot stress it enough. It is what will separate you from your competitors. It is what will give you a leaders advantage. It is what separates the boys from men. Take a read of Facebook’s release engineering process. This is what makes them great. They release daily small changes and weekly major changes without disrupting the user experience. We do not like to wait in line to get served. Online or not, we expect it yesterday. Start delivering.

c. Cut out those that cannot communicate.

Working remotely or locally, communication is pivotal to success. Both from understanding each other to communicating expectations. If we cannot communicate well or even understand each other then expectations are misaligned leading to arguments, tasks not clearly assigned ending up with delivery failures or delivery of the wrong product/feature and ultimately the business collapses. The wheels get out of sync.

There are no excuses for not being able to communicate. There are many free tools out there to help with communication like meetings.ioasana, yammer, gtdfaster.comskype etc… ontop of the standard phone, email and personal meetups at popular hacker houses. Using those tools to help manage expectations (think tasks) to scrum updates is pivotal to success. If you are not over communicating then you are not delivering the right results.

Shell shocked

Shell shocked

Shell shocked - Ninja Turtles

Yes. That’s how it felt every single time I had to deal with such co-founders that sold themselves high on their skills and failed to bring something viable and worthy to the table.

A good life lesson is this. “Always take action on things. People regret inaction more than action.“. I find regret sticks around with you longer and this is more painful.

“Fear cuts deeper than swords.”
― George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

It becomes even more painful when you are waiting around for someone to pickup their slack. So if you have a bad co-founder hanging around you, speak up, act on it and drop them immediately if nothing changes. Don’t look back. Most of all, as Zod Nazem said “don’t pass your garbage to your neighbor”.

Ask questions

Ask yourself these questions before committing your energy and time with a potential co-founder.

  • Have they go any examples of execution & delivery on time? Not so fast, it needs to be recent projects in current environment. Not past (historical/ancient) projects. Recall what I said above about environment & change.
  • Work together and deliver something together on time to completion – we all have small projects. Try before you buy. Don’t use hackathons as a gauge. Use something where pressure has to come from within you both. Failing this no 2nd changes. No one can recover your lost time.
  • Can they communicate well? Easy test is in how they speak/communicate something to you 1:1 and via email. Do you feel like you do not know the status of your project or understand the message?
  • Do they have expertise/domain knowledge in an area you lack? If yes work on this small project in that area to see.
  • Do a quiz to see founder valueshere’s one here. But do not count on it alone. It’s just to get your mind ticking.

I always say…

“First time shame on you; Second time shame on me!”
― Ernest Semerda

If something is a repeating pattern you need to act fast. This life lesson I was taught by a senior VP and it has proven to be valuable and rewarding time again.

Got life lessons you want to share here? Post below or shoot me a message.

Enjoy!
~ Ernest

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Ernest W. Semerda

CTO & Co-Founder at Medlert Inc.
Medlert CTO/Co-Founder. Founder of kickass GTD & Pomodoro app GSDfaster iOS app. Follow me on Twitter: @ernestsemerda or Google+.