The Best Way to Find a Co-Founder You Can Count On
Let’s face it: Starting a company is hard. Really hard. You have to make sure your customers are happy. You have to impress your investors. You have to hire and inspire a team to share the risk with you. Oh, and you also have to make your actual product.
With so many loose ends to worry about, the last thing you want to deal with is a co-founder who does more harm than good. After all, who has the time to go through a painful founder divorce?
If you have a potential partner in mind, you’ve probably already run through the usual checklist: having complementary skills, similar values, and identical visions for the company. But there’s one simple test to vet a possible business partner that’s seriously underrated: going on a trip.
Since you’ll be working hand-in-hand in close quarters (not to mention powering through months on end with little sleep and ramen dinners), nothing else can give you a glimpse of your future better than hitting the road together and weathering the good and the bad.
Our own Muse co-founders Kathryn Minshew and Alex Cavoulacos share their experience:
When Alex and I first traveled together, I appreciated her calmness under pressure while she liked my creativity in solving the type of problems that come up while hopscotching around the world. We had really complementary styles, which translated well to the working world.
Similarly, Cindy Gallop, founder and CEO of IfWeRanTheWorld, recounts benefiting from this test:
I took a two-week trip to New Zealand four years ago with my co-founder Oonie Chase to promote and build partnerships for our startup IfWeRanTheWorld.... Traveling with Oonie was a delight—including sharing a room. If you can share a room with your co-founder while traveling and co-exist happily accordingly, that's a major endorsement.
Traveling is known to reveal both the best and worst in people, so you’ll learn a lot (almost too much!) about each other when setting off to explore the world together. As you travel with your potential co-founder, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this person punctual, meaning can you trust her to show up to important meetings on time?
- Does he make an itinerary and stick to the schedule? Whether or not he’s organized and accountable becomes a lot clearer.
- Is she one of those people who thinks ahead and reminds you of all the things you need that slipped your mind? This could be a huge indicator of strategic planning and thoughtfulness.
- Does this person pick up after himself? If not, be warned—you might be the one going the extra mile and cleaning up after the both of you down the road.
- Was it easy to agree on if the trip should be relaxing or action-packed? It might reflect what you both value in time off and how future negotiations will play out based on how you envision the purpose of the trip.
- Do you have similar expectations for spending money? Not being able to agree on street food versus a prix fixe menu may hint at priorities of budget versus quality.
- Is one person willing to rough it while the other demands a minimum degree of comfort? Might not bode well if the company has little funds in the early days and needs to be scrappy to survive.
Facing the Unexpected
- How does he react in an ambiguous situation in another country, surrounded by people speaking foreign languages? Whether he welcomes the experience or looks to you for guidance, you’ll know what to expect when you face challenging situations.
- What happens when both of you get lost? Does this person respond calmly and rationally, or is she suddenly flustered when faced with uncertainty? This might cue you in on how she’ll act when there are hundreds of unknowns when running a business.
- If a crisis occurs, how well do you both resolve the issue—together? Everyone can get along when things go well, but the real test comes when things fall apart. This might be the best simulation of your future partnership.
Once you’ve done all the above and it all checks out, the last question to ask is: Are you even excited to travel with this person?
If the thought of sharing an adventure doesn’t keep at the edge of your seat and wishing for more, then some listening to your gut about whether or not you even enjoy spending time together might be in order.
In the end, the most successful partnerships are relationships that have been tried and tested. While no single indicator can give you an instant answer, these are all things that can add color to your decision in choosing to work so closely with someone. Planning a trip together not only changes how you see people you thought you knew well, but also gives you a much-needed glimpse of watching them react in (the first of many) new contexts.
Photo of suitcase courtesy of Shutterstock
Before joining The Muse, Sarah worked in social business innovation for Virgin Unite in London, strategy and innovation at Market Gravity, sustainability research in the Dominican Republic, and business development for a NYC startup. Wrapping up her time at Columbia University, she’s headed to McKinsey & Company after graduation. Say hi on Twitter @sarahlichang.More from this Author