The 5-Step Blueprint for Finding Your Perfect Co-Founder

May 2, 2023

Partnering with the right co-founder is the biggest determinant of your future success.

Having founded multiple startups across various industries, I firmly believe having the right co-founder(s) is the most significant determinant of startup success.

Hence, it’s important to spend significant time up-front to probe co-founder compatibility more deeply — beyond sharing your work experiences, future vision, or a brief phone call.

I derived a five-step process for finding an ideal co-founder for my next adventure. This process has been tested over 100 hours with 30+ potential co-founders — ultimately helping me co-found a project that has grown to 2000+ users in less than five months.

Without further ado, here are the five actionable steps that I’ve used to find, assess, and partner with the right co-founder.

Step 1: Identify and target the right communities

The first place you should start with is your network. Quickly identify the people you most admire or would love to work with.

Ask yourself: “Who in my network has the capability to create a successful company? Who can I best learn from?”. These are the folks you should be starting with.

If you have a limited network, no problem! There are tons of established communities where both repeat and aspiring founders regularly come together.

Here are fantastic places to start your co-founder search:

YC Co-founder Matching is a free online platform for finding a high-quality based on your preferences for interests, skills, or locationIndie Hackers is a community connecting founders of profitable online businesses to folks who are starting and growing their own companiesReddit (r/SaaS, r/Startups, r/Entrepreneur) or Hacker NewsOn Deck is a curated community designed to increase your odds of building a successful venture-backed company;Startup Weekend is a worldwide, three-day event where entrepreneurs pitch, validate, build, and demo their prototypesSlack communities like ProductLed and Product School are great places to start. Otherwise, here is a list of 400 other potential channels

Alternatively, you can build top-of-funnel co-founder leads by proactively reaching out to:

Ex-founders/operators of previous Techstars or Y-Combinator startupsEstablished founders and operators on TwitterFounders featured on Forbes 30 Under 30 or equivalent (though this might be a vanity success metric — take it with a grain of salt).

Once you’ve built momentum with a group of potential co-founders…

Step 2: Conduct an initial screening call

Jump on a video conference to introduce yourself and get to know each other on a personal level.

During this call, you should discuss your motivations and align on the fundamentals:

The ideal problem spaces you would like to explore ideas inProblems you’ve encountered/faced that you’d like to solveThe type of company you’d like to build (i.e., timeframe for an exit, bootstrapped, etc.)Ideal time commitment and threshold (i.e., side project? FT? Threshold for full-time expectation)Working philosophy (i.e., remote, in-person, hours, etc.)

Try to carve out time during this call to discuss topics beyond work. A co-founder is someone you’ll practically be married to (time commitment-wise). This is your opportunity to determine if you’re okay with spending 40+ hours together in a high-pressure startup environment.

Once you align on the fundamentals, move on to the next step. If not, end the discussion here and save yourself time.

Step 3: Build and complete a co-founder questionnaire

If you’ve made it to this step, congratulations! You now have an opportunity to build both depth and breadth into your mutual assessment.

The best way to do this is to create and share a co-founder questionnaire that dives deeper into your collective motivations, ambitions, and skills.

You can get started by using a popular one like First Round’s 50 Questions to Explore with a Co-founder, taking pertinent snippets from different sources on the internet, or mixing and matching all of the above (which is what I did).

Here is a link to the personal co-founder questions and answers I shared.

Once you fill this out…

Step 4: Meet to discuss answers and conduct reference checks

Set up an hour or two to sit down and review each other’s answers in person or via a conference call. I think this is important since siloed, asynchronous review can lead to misinterpretation or misconstrued answers.

A big part of communication is nonverbal, so it’s critical to observe each other’s level of excitement, fear, or sincerity beyond the written text.

During the call, feel free to probe deeper and request concrete examples that support your potential co-founder’s written answers.

At the end of the meeting, ask for one or two work-related references (i.e., manager, direct report, advisor) and get in touch with them over a five-minute call.

Ask them questions to reaffirm answers listed in your co-founder’s questionnaire.

For instance, I would ask references questions like:

1. Would you (re)hire or co-found a company with this person? Why or why not?2. If you had to rate their competency in {critical skill} out of 10, what would it be? Why?3. How would you describe what it’s like to work with {name}?4. What is the most impressive thing {name} has built?

If you’re satisfied with the references, move on to the next step!

Step 5: Schedule a build-sprint

A build sprint is a time-boxed, controlled environment where you can emulate aspects of company building.

You’ll work with your potential co-founder(s) over a 2–4 week period to establish a sprint milestone, assess problems, and ship experiments to validate your hypotheses with real customers.

A build sprint is an effective tool for the following reasons:

It simulates a co-founder relationship without the costly commitment;It helps define personal preferences behind how and when you like to work together;Roles are quickly established through actual output and results;It’s a barometer to weed out founders who like to “play house” or do “busy work” vs. delivering actual value;Allows both parties to see how they thrive under pressure;

Here is a personal framework I use with potential co-founders to identify problems, build hypotheses, and ship experiments.

To summarize

Partnering with the right co-founder(s) is crucial to your startup’s success. To ensure you have compatible co-founders, invest in this five-step methodology (or equivalent) to assess compatibility and work together before committing to a co-founder.

It will pay huge dividends!

If you found this article to be helpful, connect with me through my personal blog or Linkedin to receive helpful tips pertaining to the early-stage founder journey:

The 5-Step Blueprint for Finding Your Perfect Co-Founder was originally published in Entrepreneur’s Handbook on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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