I had known and worked with one of my co-founders for over twenty years. Two of my co-founders came through recommendations of other co-founders. Another co-founder and I worked together and had known each other for about nine years.
The one thing all my co-founders had in common was they all came through trusted sources. Either I sourced them myself (What more trusted source can you have than that?), or a trusted source (one of my other co-founders) introduced them to me.
Interestingly enough, two of my co-founders were not good choices. One of the co-founders that I knew for twenty years didn’t work out, and one of the co-founders that I was introduced to through a trusted source didn’t work out.
It’s almost impossible to figure out who is going to work out in a company before you hire them. However, there are things you can do to dramatically increase the odds of success.
A. Make sure your co-founders are hungry.
A definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.
I recruited two people that were wealthy to be co-founders and both failed.
Wealth is not enough to disqualify someone from being a co-founder, but sometimes you lose your edge when you’ve already made it financially. That’s what happened in the case of our VP Sales, Ken.
Ken was living the life. I hoped for the best, but I knew there was likely going to be a problem with Ken’s motivation when he choose to live in a fancy building in San Francisco instead of buying a home in the Silicon Valley where the company was located.
I wondered, “Would Ken really be willing to spend all that time on the road away from his family?” I wondered, and I did nothing.
I didn’t have one conversation with Ken about my concerns until the day before he quit (read https://www.brettjfox.com/whats-your-eq-and-why-it-matters/). Instead I just hoped things would work out.
Things didn’t work out.
B. Make sure your vision for the company matches.
This one I got right. I had a very clear vision of how I wanted the company to evolve, and what I wanted the company to do.
I recruited like-minded people that shared the same vision. This is crucial to success because there are enough other problems that can derail a company.
You need everyone in the company marching in the same direction. Imagine the chaos if you and your fellow co-founders can’t agree on what direction to take and what to do?
The odds of your success go way up when you and your co-founders are on the same page.
C. Make sure your co-founders have integrity.
Maybe I should have listed this one at the top because integrity in business is everything.
To me, integrity means that you are going to be honest. It means that you are morally sound. It means I can implicitly trust you with my life (which I am if I am asking you to be a co-founder).
Becoming a co-founder is a huge responsibility. Sadly, many people don’t take the responsibility that comes with being a co-founder seriously enough.
Many potential co-founders just don’t understand the commitment required. You can vet these people out by just spending enough time with them. I would say a minimum of three months, but sometimes you need nine months or more.
The ones you have to worry about are the ones with bad intentions. I had this happen to me (Read https://www.brettjfox.com/what-are-the-eleven-steps-you-can-take-when-a-co-founder-quits/). And bad intentions can destroy even the best plan.
D. Make sure your co-founders have the energy to stay the course.
Ask yourself the following question about your co-founders:
“Do my co-founders have the perseverance to stick with the company when times are tough because there are going to be tough times?”
You’ll see the signs of trouble early on. Get worried if your co-founder is asking you to radically change the direction of the company at the first sign of resistance.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to valuable feedback. I am saying that you can’t be changing direction every time an investor rejects you because you’ll be changing direction a lot.
This is when you need to have a steady hand at the wheel. Nothing is easy at the start because you are simultaneously building a brand, growing your team, and growing your business.
It’s supposed to be hard. Your co-founders need to understand this.
E. Make sure your co-founders are great in their respective disciplines.
Always hire the best. Always work with the best. You want superstar co-founders, and you only want superstar co-founders.
It’s very difficult to start a company with B-level talent and then transition to A-level talent. Start with superstars instead.
Superstar co-founders attract other superstars to work with them. In turn, these new superstar recruits attract other superstars. This is the best way to recruit your initial team.
F. Make sure your co-founders are cultural fits.
The importance of a great company culture is often overlooked. Don’t make this crucial mistake when it comes to your company and co-founders.
Remember that you can’t decree your culture. Your culture is going to evolve based on the employees you hire. And the first employees are your co-founders.
So stay away from bringing on a brilliant jerk as a co-founder unless you want a team of brilliant jerks. Hire smart, passionate people that share your vision for the company.
I’m not saying your team shouldn’t be diverse. Diversity is good. But there needs to be agreement on the basic direction of the company and the core values of the company. Read https://www.brettjfox.com/how-to-steal-netflixs-company-culture-in-six-easy-steps/.
You can take all these six steps and there may still be a co-founder that doesn’t work out (read https://www.brettjfox.com/what-are-the-eleven-steps-you-can-take-when-a-co-founder-quits/). That’s okay. Just learn from what happened. The next person you hire will be a better fit.