Choosing a cofounder

  • Not a question of IF you have conflicting opinions, it's what to do WHEN you do
  • When cofounders’ goals are not aligned, decision-making becomes much harder

Choosing a cofounderWHILE building, the first advice I received when I was looking for a tech cofounder was to find someone who understands both technology and business.
I suspected that this would be rare, and therefore my brilliant plan was to be decisive and quickly partner with the first tech person I could find with the appetite to be in a startup, and then try work out our differences along the way.
That plan, of course, was just plain silly.
And while I’ve realised that now, I believe many founders out there spend less time choosing a cofounder than they do interviewing a potential employee.
I guess it’s because when you hire someone, you actually pay them a salary, and in your mind, it’s easy to see why it’s important to screen the candidate properly. When it comes to cofounders, because you never actually pay them any money (or very little anyway), it feels less risky to say ‘yes.’
Besides, it’s in their interest to work hard to build the value of that equity anyway, right?
Sure, but here’s the problem: Building a startup is hard. There are many challenges you will have to face together as cofounders, and many startups fail because their cofounders don’t work well together.
An unsuitable employee can easily be replaced, but not a cofounder. And it’s not even a question of how you would resolve an issue if you have conflicting opinions, it’s a question of when. Conflicts will happen.
And as cofounders, there will be many difficult decisions to be made ahead, decisions that can make or break the startup.
Imagine if your values were different right from the start, how difficult would it be to even have conversations like that?
For me, cofounders should find out if they share the vision for the product, what values they have when it came to running a business, and their personal long-term goals.
One cofounder may want to have more organic and steady growth, and another may have more aggressive, higher risk goals. One may feel that it’s worth paying high salaries to hire great talent, another may feel that hiring average employees that fit the budget would be good enough at an early stage.
Choosing a cofounderWhen cofounders’ beliefs and goals are not aligned, decision-making becomes so much harder.
And to be absolutely certain, I would also suggest asking two simple questions: Would you enjoy this journey more if this person was working alongside you? And would you hang out with this person if you didn’t have to work together?
The answers to those questions would be the ultimate prediction of whether the cofounders would have a good working relationship when driving the growth of the business.
And that’s only the first step on the long hard road of building a startup.
Derek Toh is the founder of, a site dedicated to help young jobseekers find employers with the right culture for them. Previously an associate director at Robert Walters and auditor with EY UK, he is a strong supporter of initiatives that improve innovation and education in Malaysia. He can be reached via Twitter as @detohchi.
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