Finding the right person to co-found a venture is one of the biggest early challenges many founders face. Shikhar Ghosh sat down with serial entrepreneur, CEO, and investor, Dinesh Moorjani to discuss how to identify the right person as a business partner. What traits does Moorjani, who co-founded Tinder, look for in his business partners? Essential skills, curiosity, and genuine passion for the problem matter. But long-term compatibility is equally important in finding the right co-founder.
Many have compared the co-founder partnership to marriage. Just as nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, irreconcilable conflict between co-founders is common. Marriage experts, like Dr. John Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute, claim to be able to predict with 90% accuracy which couples will stay together for more than six years. Signs in couples’ early interactions indicate their long-term compatibility. Founders may not be able to predict business partnership outcomes with the precision Gottman does with romantic relationships. But you can get a good idea of long-term compatibility through interacting with potential co-founders.
Ways to Predict Co-Founder Compatibility
“How long does it take?” Ghosh wonders to Moorjani, “to figure out whether a person would be a good co-founder?” Moorjani answers in the clip. A transcript follows.
Dinesh Moorjani: A startup among the founders is very much like a marriage. That’s why you have so many founders—that don’t get talked about—who end up having breakups. And those startups that never get off the ground or don’t reach escape velocity, oftentimes it’s because there is an altercation among co-founders. But it’s just not made public by the VC’s or the founders themselves. Because it’s not in their best interest.
But a lot of startups have that problem. It is a marriage. You’re often time spending more time with a co-founder than you are with a spouse or partner. So, I think you can pick up on the EQ signals but I think you need to put them in a pressure cooker to really know how they’re going to perform.
A startup among the founders is very much like a marriage. Those startups that never get off the ground or don’t reach escape velocity, oftentimes it’s because there is an altercation among co-founders.
The Airport Test
Dinesh Moorjani: A version of that is the airport test. If you’re traveling with your co-founder and you’ve been on a roadshow talking to investors and you’ve seen this person for twelve to fifteen hours in the day and you’re going to end up having a late dinner, do you want to tear your hair out? Are you looking forward to the conversation? And that just gets to founder chemistry or early management team chemistry.
But at the same time, you want people that are respectful and easy to work with. It’s a very delicate combination. Because those that are very successful, type-A ambitious folks oftentimes will have to let go of some of the other natural personality traits that make them easy to get along with.
If you’ve seen this person for twelve to fifteen hours and you’re going to end up having a late dinner, do you want to tear your hair out? Are you looking forward to the conversation?
Finding that very subtle balance, again—obsession bordering on unhealthy without being unhealthy—is a very difficult tight rope to walk.
So, it’s the reason we screen out so many entrepreneurs before we find folks that either we want to work with or product leaders we want to hire. There’s a very small group and once you find those people, they tend to be forces of nature.
Key Takeaways for Finding the Right Co-Founder
- Before adding a co-founder Create ways to work with the potential partner on a test project in a pressure-cooker environment. You want to test how they behave under pressure.
- Like finding a life-time spouse, finding the right co-founder can be difficult. People who possess essential skills, genuine passion, and whose company you enjoy under pressure are rare. But waiting for the right partner pays off in the end.
Online Matching Tools for Founders
FounderDating, founded by Jessica Alter, provides a platform on which founders can search for a co-founder or mentor. Applicants must have a LinkedIn account to join the FounderDating network which screens applicants.
Founder2be is a large online community that connects developers, web designers, marketers, and entrepreneurs wanting to launch a startup. Join for free and launch your startup.
YouNoodle is a global leader in virtual startup engagement that connects entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, corporations, universities, and governments. Founded by Rebeca Hwang and Torsten Kolind in 2010, the platform matches founding teams with competitions, accelerators, prizes and other opportunities from their network of startup competitions. It also provides a SaaS platform to university, non-profit, government and enterprise clients that enables them to judge competitions.
Resources about Co-Founder Compatibility
In “Looking for Love in All The Wrong Places – How to Find a Co-founder,” serial entrepreneur Steve Blank suggests simulating an environment to test potential co-founders. Host a hackathon and use the time to assess the person’s soft skills, like conflict resolution. “You want someone who exhibits intense focus in chaotic situations, keen decision-making skills when faced with little data, relentlessness, agility, and curiosity.”
In “How to Find and Choose the Right Co-Founder for Your Startup,” Nora Leary, Co-founder of Launchway Media, observes, “many founders make the mistake of finding a co-founder who is exactly like them.” Ideally, she notes, “startups should mix skill sets.” Don’t rush the process, she urges. Take time to search for and discover the right partner. She also provides links to online matching resources.
In “34 Questions to Ask a Potential Co-Founder,” Jessica Alter, co-founder of FounderDating and Entrepreneur In Residence at Social Capital LP, created a master list of questions in 4 areas—personality, personal priorities, working styles, and roles—that co-founders can use to get to know their potential partner.