Thanks to the intensity of start-up life, you're likely to spend far more time with your co-founder while you're getting your company off the ground than you do with your spouse. And just like in a marriage, you and your co-founder will probably endure intense lows and enjoy intoxicating highs together.
But unlike meeting and marrying, there is no formula for getting to know and evaluating the suitability of a co-founder. There is no co-founder dating (well, actually there sort of is but it's not quite the same thing), and no easily accessible cultural script for how you progress from intriguing stranger to essential partner and confidante.
So if you can't do the dinner-and-a-movie thing followed by a trial run of co-habitation to decide if a co-founder has the right temperament and skills, how can you evaluate whether you're about to enter the start-up whirlwind with the right person? A recent Medium post from (blissfully paired up) co-founder Claire McGregor offered a dozen thoughtful questions to spur your soul-searching on the all important compatibility question, including:
1. Do you laugh at each other's jokes?
Start-ups are stressful, and laughter is among the world's best stress relievers, after all. "There will be days where you feel overwhelmed, exhausted, confused, lost or demoralised, and on those days laughter is your bestie, believe me. Being able to lighten the mood for each other is, IMHO, an invaluable trait," writes McGregor.
2. Do you have BIG respect for their previous work?
It's not just what they did, according to McGregor, but how they worked with others to accomplish it. She suggests you ask yourself: "What did the people that worked with them previously think about working with your co-founder? Try to focus on non-verbal queues here--when your co-founder came up in conversation with people who've worked with him or her before, did the commentary feel warm and respectful?"
3. How do you compare on risk aversion?
You're not necessarily looking for someone whose comfort levels line up exactly with your own, advises McGregor. Instead, "if, like me, you're relatively comfortable with risk, I recommend working with a co-founder who is more conservative and vice versa," she says, so that your two styles balance each other out.
4. Are your personal situations similar?
Why is this important? "This test is about empathy; about being able to understand each others' personal challenges, strengths, priorities," McGregor explains. "If kids are part of the picture for you, having a co-founder who also has those kinds of responsibilities is really awesome."
5. How does your co-founder cope with stress?
This is "arguably the hardest thing to make a judgement on when you first start to work with someone," in McGregor's view, but she suggests you can start to get a handle on your potential co-founder's response to stress by thinking "about whether you know anything about how they've handled really stressful stuff in the past--war stories they've shared, or personal stories. Past colleagues often give you clues about this too."
6. What are the lines of communication like when you disagree?
Even the most perfectly suited co-founders disagree sometimes. What happens then? "You need to be able to do this without upsetting or offending each other, and my take is that having a similar communication style makes that more likely," insists McGregor, who adds that a whole heap of trust helps greatly when it comes to having healthy (and brief) arguments.
7. Are you equally passionate about the product?
"Startups exist to solve problems, usually complex ones, in new ways. If you're going to solve a difficult problem together, you'd best be passionate about the subject matter," McGregor believes.
Looking for more insightful questions to consider? Check out the complete post, which also offers lots of additional wisdom on finding that perfect co-founder. Or, how about you try a more hands on approach to vetting that potential business partner and try traveling with them first.