Like many first time entrepreneurs, my main focus when starting a tech company was the product. When looking for a co-founder, I remained product focused, and searched for someone with similar software development skills that could help me build the product. With this focus in mind, I met Ben Coe, who became the co-founder and CTO. Together, we built Attachments.me.
We were lucky. While Ben and I come from the same background in engineering, we had little to no knowledge of much else business-wise so we had to learn quickly. This worked out for us, but not without some pains, as we quickly had to learn marketing, business development and sales on our feet. Not to mention, keep building the product.
Choosing who to, or not to, begin a company with is one of the most important decisions for your company and can make or break the business.
I was very lucky that Ben and I ended up working well together, but I don't recommend anyone leave this decision up to luck. Here are a few things I learned from my experiences that are important to consider when thinking about who to start a company with:
Everyone hopes to start their company, raise millions of dollars and turn it into a huge profitable company without ever hitting a bump. Unfortunately, that is not reality for most new businesses. There will be problems. Employees will leave. There will be days that nothing seems to be working.
Having a partner you know you can lean on in these times is vital. Your co-founder will be the only person that you can always be completely transparent with. It is essential you trust each other fully, so you can help each other overcome obstacles and get through the hard times.
For each co-founder you bring on, you are taking on a significant amount of dilution. This is why Mark Suster recommends having at most 2 total founders in a company. Start a company with a total of 4 founders and you're already down to 25% ownership each, before even raising any money.
If you have a business partner but feel you need one more to fill a gap in expertise, this may point to a larger issue that perhaps you and your chosen co-founder don't have complementary skills, You can consider alternatives such as adding that certain needed skill set as an early hire, but that is not always the right solution for your business. This brings me to my next point.
There will be a million things to do when you start a new company. The more of these things that you and your other founders can do yourselves, the further you can get the company without needing funding. It's imperative that you choose co-founder(s) who complement your own skills.
For a web technology startup, Jason Putorti (lead designer at Mint.com before going on to found Votizen) recommends a founding team of 3 people, consisting of a hacker (software developer), hustler (business development/sales) and a designer. The key behind this three-pronged strategy is that a well-rounded core co-founding team will be able to execute on creating a good-looking product and explore how to sell it, without having to look to any additional people.
The perfect combination of complementary skills to begin a company will differ from business to business. The key point is to think about what skills your company will need to get off the ground, and try to find a co-founder who excels in areas you lack, balancing the skill set across the business.
Choosing who you found a company with can have one of the greatest effects on the long term success of your company. By ensuring you take into account the points above and finding the right balance, you can give your company a significant advantage before it even starts.