13 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Partnering With a Co-Founder
Jul 20th - 6min.
Trying to avoid as many surprises in the future is crucial. Ask all the hard and tough questions before you decide to engage with a co-founder. We’ve interviewed our CTO and data magician Timothy Verhaeghe who founded his 4th company with a co-founder.
It's very important to ask all the hard and tough questions before you decide to engage with a co-founder. This way, you won't be blind-sided by any unpleasant surprises. Here's a list of things you should consider before deciding to work together with a potential co-founder.
We’ve interviewed Timothy Verhaeghe, serial start-up founder and CTO of WebFaster. He decided to work together with Yannig Bourgeois, our financial expert, for his fourth company. After giving multiple talks about this topic at Thomas More & Voka for example, we’ve decided to share his knowledge with you.
- Why would you need a co-founder?
- What did you learn from your experiences?
- Can you reveal one of the secrets behind co-founding?
- What kind of personality should you look for?
- How close should you be to your partner?
- Which qualities do you need as a (co-)founder?
- How about splitting shares?
- A lot of people consider somebody because of their network.
- What about your first employee you hire together?
- Would you recommend working with a male or female partner?
- Should you focus on someone’s skills?
- Should you go for a complementary or dissimilar team?
- Most people look for a technical profile in their co-founder. What’s your opinion on this?
1. Why would you need a co-founder?
The first two years of your start-up will be extremely crazy. You’ll have a lot of milestones to celebrate, but when you start to boom and grow really fast that’s when the shit starts. At that moment you need a management team, with an aligned vision and a focused team.
2. What did you learn from your experiences?
I’ve worked with 7 or 8 co-founders so far. Right now, I’m working on my fourth company. One of the co-founders of Leadzilla, one of my previous start-ups, I even never met in real life. He’s a Canadian, all of our communication went over skype calls. Which makes communicating very hard.
There is no problem in working with a remote co-founder, if you don't mind video calling every day for at least two hours and if your company is only experiencing ups. But wait until your company is experiencing some downs. Then you will need a physical shoulder to cry on, believe me.
3. Can you reveal one of the secrets behind co-founding? Communication is key, it’s the number one tool of “co-founding”. If you want to grow fast you need to be aligned and trust each other. Even the smallest mistakes can be devastating. That’s one of the reasons why I believe that having in-house developers is really important, but that’s already another story.
Never stop talking to your co-founder even if you’re operating remotely or in a totally different branch of the company. Make sure your co-founder has the right competences to run a team. Your partner must be part of the team. If he or she is a boss, it quickly goes wrong. In general, you need to find a co-founder who’s interesting to grow with.
4. What kind of personality should you look for?
In the early phase of a start-up you’re looking for cowboys, people who will go over and beyond to make things work. You need to find the ones who say no to "no", meaning that if something can’t be done, they’re willing to do it either way.
The best profiles are the ones that combine these two types of personality. They are a mix of a cowboy and a problem solver. Moreover, you need strategic people. The ones who are cowboys when required (and shoot at everything that moves) but also the ones that fix problems efficiently when needed.
In my bold opinion “every” critical thinker, problem solver and cowboy can be the best CTO, CEO or whatever. A CTO doesn’t need to be a technical person (in every case). He or she needs to be a critical thinker who dares to take risks and calls in help when needed.
5. How close should you be to your partner?
Don’t be scared of your co-founder, always be honest to them. Make your co-founder your friend, you will have to support each other constantly. He or she will become the number one go-to.
Find someone who has a shoulder to cry on, but you can also laugh with. You will have a lot of ups, but certainly also a lot of downs. You need someone to survive battles with and maybe even more important to make battle plans with. In order to make this work, try to find skill sets in your co-founder that you are lacking.
6. Which qualities do you need as a (co-)founder?
You need to be able to read emotions. You even have to know what’s going on in each other’s personal life. If you’re in the same room it’s way easier to read that than when you’re on the other side of the globe. Sometimes, someone can be mad or disappointed not because of you, but due to other events. You need to be someone who can support and can be trusted by others when things go wrong.
7. How about splitting shares?
If you want your co-founder to be motivated split the company almost in two or something like 40%/60%. So he or she is really into it. I wouldn’t recommend splitting the company in two (50%/50%) because that caused me a lot of trouble in one of my previous start-ups. Make sure that everything you agree on, is written on paper.
8. A lot of people consider somebody because of their network. How do you feel about that?
Never choose somebody as a co-founder solely because of their network. “He can make such great introductions for your company… He can get his hands on a lot of money after a few calls…” That’s the biggest bullsh* you’ll ever hear. Any network can be built when you’re passionate about what you’re doing. Anyone can become part of your network. And remember investors don’t want to invest in friends, but in great ideas.
9. What about your first employee you hire together?
This person shouldn’t be a thinker, but someone who gets things done. There are already so many people telling you what to do that you just need someone who f* does it!
10. Would you recommend working with a male or female partner?
To be fairly honest, I don’t mind the gender of my co-founder. Just keep a few things in mind:
- You will be more together with them more than you’ll ever be with your boy- or girlfriend. The loved one of your co-founder might become jealous, your partner may be jealous. And since you work together that close it may be difficult. I know some male and female co-founders who’ve ended up as partners.
- On the other hand, technical females are in general so much more structured and organized. It’s really nice to work with them.
11. Sometimes it’s difficult to get all these different aspects in place. Should you look for someone who doesn’t make you feel lonely and you can have fun with? Or should you focus on someone’s skills?
Doing business with friends means you’re going to lose them as a friend. Since you’re working 10 hours a day together, you’re happy that you don’t have to see each other during the weekend. Being business partners often implies sacrificing friendship.
This isn’t always the case, my current co-founder is a friend, not (just) a business partner, like the previous one. Yannig is the kind of friend you call first on New Years, the first I would go to if I feel down... Just because I know that he cares about me... and so far, I think that this can be the magic sauce to a team.
Next the founder of FindOut, an event platform for Flanders, give her opinion on certain topics. Let’s find out more!
12. Should you go for a complementary team or a dissimilar team?
Iris: Make sure that your co-founder brings something different to the table than you do. Are you an introvert? Try to partner with someone who is more extrovert. Are you a creative dreamer? Make sure you work together with someone who is realistic and grounded. It balances the company.
Timothy: “If your co-founder always chooses the same path as you do, there is no added value in having a co-founder. Someone who asks you: “Why are we doing this?” Can make a huge difference for the company. In the end, you should have the same vision, the same dream and a common endpoint.”
13. Most people look for a technical profile in their co-founder. What’s your opinion on this?
Iris: If you’re a technical profile, look for a commercial type to help you sell the product that you’re building. You may have the best product, but if you don't know how to sell it your business won't succeed. It's more comfortable to collaborate with someone who is similar to you, but in the long run it’s probably not what you need.
Timothy: Technical people will take over the world within years. So yes, do find a technical co-founder, a CTO or a VP of Engineering. But the biggest question remains: is your co-founder a problem solver? No, okay bye then! Even if you graduated from Harvard summa cum laude, if you're not a problem solver at heart, you're not made to be a co-founder.