What Are The Warning Signs Of A Bad Co-Founder?

bad co-founder

Do you think it’s a good idea to propose marriage after your second date?

Good, I didn’t think so.

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The best analogy for deciding on cofounders is dating. In fact, a cofounder relationship is more intense than a marriage:

  • You’re working in a very stressful environment for most of your waking hours, and…
  • Money is really tight, and…
  • You don’t know if things are going to work out.

.The advantage that most married couples have is the average courtship is 3.3 years  in the United States. And the divorce rate is still around 50%.

So here you are about to enter into an even more intense relationship than a marriage, and you can’t wait 3.3 years to find out if your co-founder is going to work out.

Is it any wonder that so many co-founder relationships fail?


What can you do to improve the odds that your co-founders are going to work out?


Here are the steps I would recommend taking. Let’s start with:


You shouldn't try and find a co-founder in one or two meetings.


Yes, you will be able to screen some of your candidates out quickly. For example, pass if the candidate isn’t excited by the opportunity.

An unexcited co-founder will leave at the first sign of trouble.

So, let the relationship move at a natural pace. You’ll be able to move faster, obviously, if you have a preexisting relationship with a potential co-founder.

But it may take several meetings before you and your potential co-founder are comfortable taking the plunge.

So what are you looking for?


A. You're looking for fanatics.


Fanatics come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes fanatics are extroverts. Sometimes fanatics are introverts.

Sometimes fanatics have great academic pedigrees, and sometimes fanatics don’t have great academic pedigrees.

But all fanatics are obsessed with your cause.

Fanatics are so important to have as co-founders because fanatics will not give up at the first sign of trouble. Fanatics will fight to the death for your cause.

So look for the signs that your potential co-founders are as obsessed with your cause as you are. You’ll see it in their excitement about building the company.



B. You're looking for people that have integrity.


You need to walk away from any of your potential co-founders that show any signs that don’t have integrity.

  • It doesn’t matter how smart they are, and…
  • It doesn’t matter how great of cultural fit they are, and…
  • It doesn’t matter how passionate or fanatical they are about the business because…
  • You can’t work with them if they don’t have integrity.

You will end up with a bad result if you work with a co-founder that lacks integrity.



C. You're looking for people that are really smart in their area(s) of expertise.


Let’s say you’re looking for an Engineering VP. You want someone that is great at what they do.

Not mediocre, but great because the level of expertise of the executive will set the level of expertise of all future hires. So you have a greater chance of hiring A level engineers if you start with an A level VP of Engineering.

You have almost no chance of hiring A level engineers if you start with a B level VP of Engineering.



D. You're looking for people that are cultural fits.


Culture is actually one of the biggest determinants of startup success (Read: Why Your Startup Culture Is The Key To Your Company's Success), so start thinking about the team you want to assemble before you bring on any cofounders.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to clones of each other. I am saying that there needs to be a shared set of beliefs that everyone on the founding team agrees on.

So, keep these four things in mind (fanaticism, integrity, smarts, and cultural fit) as you are building your relationship with your potential cofounders. And don’t be afraid to spend more time or passing if the relationship isn’t moving in the right direction.


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