What to Look for in a co-founder

January 16, 2014 / Share:


by EC Member Bryan Clayton 

5 things to look for in a perfect co-founder

Most seasoned tech entrepreneurs advise against going it alone. More times than not, the great tech companies built out of garages were brought to life by at least two co-founders or more. Jobs would have never been Jobs without Wozniak, and Google, as we know it, would have never been Google if Sergey Brin had never met Larry Page.

So, what qualities do you look for when considering a co-founder for your tech startup?  In my entrepreneurial journey of founding and exiting a couple businesses, I have had great co-founders  . . . and not so great.  In particular, I have had to endure one painful unwinding of a business partnership. Applying what I leaned from those experiences, this time around when building my team for our startup, GreenPal, I selected 3 three men very carefully.

Qualities you will want to look for when vetting potential co-founders:


Do they exemplify grit, the combination of passion and persistence?  Can you see the fire in their eyes? Do they have a chip on their shoulder to prove something?  These days, everyone says they have passion; the word has become trite. Can you identify what their life purpose is?  Why do they get out of bed every morning?  Are they pissed off for greatness?   If the answers correlate with your vision; if you can ascertain that they have real passion, that will be fuel to get through the toughest and sometime hopeless parts of the mission that awaits them.

The willingness to learn

You no doubt will want to surround yourself with smart or maybe even brilliant co-founders, but additionally, each of you will need a disposition to constantly learn and hone the skills you need while discovering the answers you don’t know to the problems that arise.  In the journey of forming a tech startup, your team will need to be adept at product design, marketing, growth, engineering, as well as data analysis and testing.  You don’t necessarily have to find co-founders that already have these talents; however, your cofounders need to have a thirst for knowledge and the commitment to mastering the prerequisite disciplines.  

When I recruited my founding team for GreenPal, not one of us knew how to code; we had no clue what UX meant, and conversation rate optimization was a foreign concept.  Fortunately, I was surrounded by team members that were willing to put in the work to learn these skills, in most cases self-taught through online courses and practice.  I can’t believe it, but a year later, two of my co-founders essentially have taught themselves programming languages. I am proud of them.

Appetite for failure

You and your team will need to be able to embrace failure. Great founders understand that progress is measured in validated learning. Failure is the greatest teacher in a startup as it’s the only way we learn what works practically and what does not.   Your potential co-founders should be comfortable talking about (preferably celebrate) their past failures big or small and about what they learned from each experience.   If you sense they have defensiveness about their failures and when they have been wrong, that’s a bad sign.   A strong co-founder knows that failure is just a necessary step along the road to success.

Obsessed with getting rich

Most of us want to be rich. Money can be a good motivator for a lifestyle business; however, motivation from the promise of riches is not a quality you want in your co-founder for this type of journey.  When we chase dollars, they get further and further away.  You want co-founders that get fired up because they see the world a little differently, because of something they built touched the lives of people in it.  

If your potential co-founders ever say something like this, “We can build this thing and sell it to Google in 2 years and make a ton of money; then, I’m gonna buy that Tesla Roadster,” chances are they will not have the fortitude to make it through the trough of sorrow which is the period after the buzz from your product’s initial launch wears off, and you realize users are not going to magically flock to your doorstep

Break bread

Finally, but probably most importantly, do you genuinely like them? Could you hang out with them socially? Do you share interests, sense of humor, and do your personality traits mesh well?  You will be spending 12-15 hours a day with them, so it’s critical that you actually enjoy their presence, or they will probably get under your skin. 

Personally, I am an acquired taste. I have a crass sense of humor; I’m demanding and lack sensitivity.  Fortunately, my co-founders get that about me, our relationship works, but most people would have walked out on me by now.  In turn, I’ve come to accept their minor foibles as well. However, it’s important to co-found a company with individuals that exhibit the above mentioned criteria, individuals you would break bread with–it’s just that simple.

The synergy between you and your co-founders will be instrumental in the early forming your company’s culture and ultimately in achieving your mission.  On your path to entrepreneurial greatness, choose wisely when picking a co-founder, as it could make the difference between falling into the startup graveyard or leaving your mark on this world. 

Bryan Clayton is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of GreenPal

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