Should you have a co-founder?

There’s this common misconception that solo founders have less likelihood of success.

And that’s why they get less investment from VCs.

But in reality, data from Techstars, one of the biggest startup incubators in the world, says otherwise.

Maelle, their CEO, shared some interesting data about it: solo founders actually have 2,5 times more likelihood to run a successful and profitable business.

But, there’s also an important part in the post: “While successful solo founders didn’t have co-founders with equity and voting rights, they often did have co-creators (employees, mentors, partners) who provided strong support.”

As the saying goes: If you want to go fast, go alone - if you want to go far, go together.

In this article, I want to go through whether or not you need a co-founder, how to evaluate if a co-founder is a good fit or not, and finally how to find a co-founder.

In the last 8 years, I co-founded one business with my dad that totally failed.

I started an agency with a friend that didn’t turn out as planned, but where I learned a lot.

I tried to launch a business 100% on my own by hiring only freelancers in Russia… but I almost died.

And finally started lemlist with people I didn’t know before but who had complementary skills to mine.

4 years after we started, they left and I ended up “solo” founder for a bit before I hired my C-level team that came as late founders.

So when it comes to co-founders and co-founders’ relationships, I’ve experienced quite a lot of different scenarios.

So, why do you need a co-founder?

First, for productivity reasons.

If you start your company with very little or almost no money, like I did, you need people who are willing to work on the same project for free.

Secondly, building a business is really hard.

90% of businesses fail.

So you’re gonna need someone who you can trust and who understands you along the way.

And that may or may not be your co-founder.

Most successful companies in the world had co-founders at first.

Whether you think of Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft even Facebook.

Maybe that down the line, people left, but they didn’t start on their own.

So how do you know if you need co-founders or not?

There’s a framework I really like called Ikigai 👇

It’s used to find personal fulfillment and purpose, but I’ve adapted it to assess whether you should have a co-founder in your business.

You can get the free Notion doc I’ll share later at the end of this article to make that assessment yourself.

#1 What you love (your passion)

The first two questions are “Do you enjoy collaborative work and shared leadership?” and “Does having a co-founder align with your ideal work culture and environment?”

If the answer is no because you prefer to always be the one in charge, then you’d probably be better as a solo founder, and that’s ok.

#2 What you are good at (your vocation)

Here the idea is to understand 2 things:

1- “Are your skills and strengths complemented by a co-founder's abilities?”

and 2- “Can you handle all aspects of the business alone, or do you need a co-founder's expertise?”

If you realize that to build your business, you need some complementary skills, are you ready to work with someone as a co-founder?

Or do you prefer to hire someone?

And if you want to hire someone, do you have enough money to do so?

#3 What the world needs (your mission)

If you’re targeting a complex industry, “Does your business idea benefit from diverse perspectives and skills that a co-founder can bring?”

For example, if you’re not technical and want to launch a cybersecurity startup, having a CTO as a co-founder will be reassuring for your first customers.

#4- What you can be paid for (your profession)

“Will having a co-founder improve the financial viability of your business?”

And most importantly, “Can the business support multiple founders in terms of revenue and profit sharing?”

If your goal is to build a lifestyle business where you just want to sustain yourself, having a co-founder will not work out.

But if you plan to build a billion-dollar company, then you’ll probably be fine.

Now, if you decide that you need a co-founder, how do you find the right one in the first place?

There are 4 ways:

1- If you’re still a student, I’d look at all the people you worked with on different projects and had a great relationship.

2- If you’re working in a startup, I’d look at co-workers you enjoyed working with.

3- If you’re part of online or offline communities, I’d try to network and work on small projects with people who have similar interests and complementary skills.

4- And finally, I’d try to look at some matchmaking platforms.

In order for you to evaluate if a co-founder is a good match, there are 4 essential areas:

#1 Goals & Values: If one person wants to build a small business with a maximum of 10 people and the other wants to build a unicorn with hundreds of employees - then it’s not gonna work out eventually.

#2 Communication: How do you like to communicate? Are you more of an in-person meeting all the time or async?

#3 Finances: How long can you work on the project without getting paid?

#4 Commitment: How much time can you spend on the project? Are you going all in from the start, or do you expect to have free time for other projects?

It’s super important to be entirely transparent and not try to hide your flaws because you want the foundation to be as strong as possible. So communication is a must.

Before I share with you a cool accountability doc from Y-Combinator… 👇

There’s a question that I get asked a lot: Should I use a dev shop or agency if I don’t have the technical skills?

Overall I think that I’ve rarely seen someone make it work for a simple reason.

When you launch your startup, you believe that you know what you want to build, but you don’t.

It’s gonna change a lot before you can actually reach product market fit.

And the issue with a dev shop is that it only works when you have clear specs from the start.

Otherwise, it’s gonna cost you way too much money along the way…

So what would be the alternative when you don’t have a technical co-founder and want to launch a technical product?

Well, I would go with no-code tools like Airtable, Bubble, Webflow, etc.

How to define accountability between co-founders?

Now let’s go through the accountability doc and why it matters.

Very quickly, you want to put a few key things in writing with your co-founder.

Because the #1 thing you need when building a company with a cofounder is trust.

And if we look at the trust framework I’ve created 👇

It comes down to 3 key elements

1- Emotional connection: essentially, how do you connect with someone?

2- Credibility: what has that person done in the past, and does it make sense for them to have this specific role?

3- Reliability: when they make a promise, do they follow up on this or not?

By default, you should always trust your cofounders, but having some structure to validate that you can count on each other is really helpful.

The goal of the YC document is to make sure that you’re both reliable and that when you say you’re gonna do something, you actually do it.

To me, this is literally the best way to get started to work on any project with someone.

Now let’s say that you found the perfect match, how exactly should you split equity?

From my experience, you should always split the equity equally if the project hasn’t been launched and has no traction.

Too many times, I hear people saying things like:

“I started working on this idea for years,” or “My co-founder took a salary, and I didn’t,” or “I’ve got more experience,” or even worse, “I’m the CEO, so I should have more.”

All of those are bad reasons.

Traction and your company’s success will come from execution - so you want everyone from the founding team to have the same level of commitment.

Now comes the fun part - who’s doing what?

You might think that keeping the title co-founder is enough and that everyone will do a bit of everything, but that’s not.

There shouldn’t be any consensus; you want to know who decides on which topic so you can move fast.

Remember 👇

If you have to discuss every single decision, you’re gonna be super slow, and you’ll never get any momentum.

So define who’s the CEO and what their exact role is, or even what happens when someone slightly or strongly disagrees.

And most importantly, setup a structure for accountability.

Another cool test to do for each founder is the 16 personalities test.

We’re all different, and that can impact the way we communicate or manage stress.

This test is a great way to know a little bit more about what kind of person you are and how you like to communicate.

It’s super helpful to understand the other person better.

The test is free, and that’s something that might evolve over time, so make sure to do it every year.

How to handle co-founders conflict?

You’ll see that your co-founder relationship might suffer over time.

What I found particularly helpful, on top of hiring a coach, was to have what I call a “founder rescue plan.”

This document is particularly helpful when you’re really pissed off and you know that communicating straight away will not work.

You see, I used to think that when you get pissed off, you just let it out, attack people, be vocal about it, and that would be it.

But actually, for some people, it’s the opposite.

They don’t like to attack or be vocal about things - they just keep everything for themselves.

The goal of the doc is to highlight a process to solve a communication problem.

It’s divided into 3 parts.

1- What to do and not do the day this happens.

2- What to do one day after the incident.

3- And finally, some good memories to put everything in perspective.

Because when you get really pissed off, you will only see the evil in someone.

Having some good memories usually helps to take a bit of distance.

You will be able to find all the important parts of this article, including unique checklists and resources, here: Should you have a co-founder?

Every week I’ll publish new articles on how to build and grow a B2B business that generates millions of dollars.

Without any BS and giving you practical templates that you can steal.

Peace, love, and profit ✌️