Building a business is hard no matter what, but it’s often tougher on your own. Russell Siegelman, a former Microsoft executive, and now an investor and a professor at Stanford Business School, wrote recently that he advises entrepreneurs to seriously consider having a cofounder. “In my experience,” he wrote, “entrepreneurial teams are stronger than single founders. I know some successful single founders, so it can be done, but I think the odds of success are much higher if you have a cofounder.”

Cofounders provide inspiration, emotional support, complementary skills and accountability to one another. You may have a brilliant idea but may not have the level of technical skills and expertise to build the product you envision. Or conversely, you might have deep technical or scientific expertise but your business acumen may not be as strong as it should be. That’s why a cofounder can be so powerful.

alex blumberg - matt leiber

From Lone Podcaster to Innovative Media Company: The Cofounder Impact

When NPR veteran Alex Blumberg started his podcasting company (now known as Gimlet Media) two years ago, he wasn’t having much success with investors. Although he knew how to tell a story, write, edit and make a great podcast, he hadn’t figured out how to make money and scale a business like that. Blumberg eventually chose to team up with Matt Lieber, his cofounder and president of the company, who not only had a background in public radio, but an MBA and a job as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group.  That was exactly what Blumberg needed. Plus, the two guys really liked each other. Two years later Gimlet has six podcast shows, 50 employees and was named one of ten most innovative media companies in the world last year by Fast Company.

So, yes, cofounders are a good thing. But to find a cofounder that is the right fit for you and your business can take a bit of work.

When is the Right Time to Bring a Cofounder into the Fold?

A cofounder can be brought into a company before or after it launches, which means whether you’ve got a startup or a small business it’s never too late to build a great founding team. More important than timing is understanding what skills and skillsets are most needed for your business to be successful. Look at your own skills—what do you bring to the table? And what’s missing from that table? The skills that are outside of your own expertise and experience should be what a cofounder brings to the mix. Ideally, that person can fill any gaps on your management team. For example, you may be an engineer and have a great CFO, but really need someone who has experience leading operations. When you think about your ideal cofounder, all of those considerations should factor in.

Taking Culture into Consideration

It’s tempting to look at potential cofounders that are a lot like you, believing you’ll get along better and be in agreement more often, but that’s not necessarily better for your business. A good management team is well-rounded, and that means it encompasses a wide range of skills, perspectives and personality types. Your cofounder doesn’t need to be just like you, but he or she does need to complement your personality and your vision for your company’s culture, as well as your skills.  Nearly a quarter of startups fail because they have the wrong team, according to a post-mortem survey of more than 100 startups last year by CB Insights.


Know Who You’re Looking For? Here’s How to Find Them.

Once you define the profile of the ideal cofounder, you have to find him or her (and be realistic about your ideal….). You could start attending startup and small business networking events and meetups, which is the first thing most business owners think of when trying to locate potential cofounders. That’s important, but it can’t be your only strategy, because a good deal of those attending these kinds of events are also looking for cofounders and strategic partners.

In addition to attending networking events, use your own network to find potential cofounders. Start putting feelers out in the world by talking about your cofounder search with friends, family, colleagues—anyone who might know someone that would be a good fit. Sift through your connections on LinkedIn for people who would be good candidates, or who may know someone who could be a good candidate.  Attend local entrepreneurship events at universities, coworking spaces, coffee shops and hit up your own college alumni or business school network for referrals.

Once you’ve found someone or several people that might fit the bill, narrow down the options by looking for those with a vision for the company that matches your own, with a personality that you can work well with.

Perhaps most importantly, trust yourself. Intuition can be a powerful screening tool—if someone looks great on paper but there’s something about them you don’t trust or that just doesn’t sit well with you, don’t enter into a long-term business partnership with them. You and your cofounder are—hopefully—going to be working together for the long term so if something feels off, something probably is off. But if it feels right, chances are you’ve found your cofounder.