If Startup Gods had granted me a choice between a good co- founder and a good business idea, I would chose the good co-founder in a heartbeat. Leaving aside the fact that it is not so difficult to come up with good ideas due to the vast abundance of space opened up for innovation by rapid tech growth; you can pivot or morph an idea much more easily than you can break up a partnership. Although pivoting from or morphing a once-too-precious idea can be psychologically painful, it is normal and sometimes even very healthy as proposed by Howard Lowe, in his book The Start-Up J Curve.
However, breaking up a partnership is traumatic and often accompanied by a serious deterioration of a once-dear friendship or acquaintance.
Side Box: By the term “partner” I most frequently refer to the co-founders of a startup. However, many of the points mentioned are also true for investors. While the daily use of the term investor, refers to someone who invests money, a co-founder is also an investor in the broader sense, the difference being an investment of time, energy and other resources in addition to money.
So how on earth can you increase the chances of picking a good partner?
Here are the 8 qualities you should watch for while deciding on a partnership with a co-founder for your startup.
(These were originally published here with more details on each principle, and are also included in the book Startups Grow With People: How to Pick Partners, Recruit the Top Talent and Build a Company Culture)
- A good partner has the life-design that fits being in a startup (can spare the time, energy, focus and finances required)
- A good partner shares the problem (sees the world in the same unique way)
- A good partner has depth of knowledge on at least one topic related to the startup (you find yourself learning new things in each encounter)
- A good partner values good execution over genius ideas (knows success is more dependent on doing hard work and the teams’ problem solving capacity rather than the ingenuity of ideas) Hint: Here is a litmus test. Ask your potential partner what she thinks has made the well-known startups successful. If the answer is among the realms of “a genius idea”, or “luck” take these as warning signs.
- A good partner focuses on increasing the quality of decisions (honestly prefers reaching better business decisions rather than ‘being right’)
- A good partner listens to you (open to learning from you and enjoys discussing ideas even when their direct impact on the business is not apparent)
- A good partner is intrinsically motivated (follows-up on her tasks without external reminders and volunteers for open tasks)
- A good partner is a life-long learner (sees the big picture, values design-thinking, quick to grasp abstract concepts, can change her ideas when presented with the right data)