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Looking for a co-founder? Don’t choose a mate

Co-founding with a friend could be the biggest mistake of your entrepreneurial career. Here’s why.

by Shell Higgs
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.
— C.G. Jung

It’s midnight and you’re scrolling through AngelList profiles looking for a co-founder, but wonder if your high school buddy might be a better match instead. Sound familiar? Co-founding with a friend could be the biggest mistake of your entrepreneurial career. Here’s why.

Picture the archetypal startup co-founders: college buddies working out of a garage or a bedroom, maybe in a share house or at a parent’s place in the ‘burbs. They love their product, pull all-nighters and live off noodles and frozen pizza. The founders work day and night to build an MVP, enjoy some success and gain some early profit.

But then something goes awry. Maybe it’s the lack of nutrients from all that instant ramen, but the energy dissolves, the product fails to evolve, ideas stagnate and resentment starts to build. Growth slows to a standstill and the interested investors dwindle away.

The once-promising startup collapses in a heap—and everyone wonders why.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that going into a startup with a co-founder offers a better chance of venture success. Yet our 20 year study of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs shows that while starting a business with a friend might seem attractive, growing it successfully is a different story.

What our two buddies missed is that, by and large, we gravitate towards people who share similar attitudes and interests. Great for hanging out at the football; not so great when founding a business. Because when your natural talents align too closely with those of your co-founder, you’re unable to compensate for one another’s entrepreneurial blind spots. All too often, that leads to startup disaster.

What you need to know about choosing a co-founder.

Choosing a co-founder isn’t an art—it’s a science, and it all comes down to your motivations and your blind spots.

Your motivations are what give you energy, drive and enthusiasm in a work context. We measure 48 different motivations and everyone has a unique combination of them.

Choosing a co-founder based on motivations instead of similarities means your differences can work to complement each other, creating a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Ideally, founders want to make like Obama choosing Joe Biden as VP. Their different yet complementary affinities became the foundation for a strong political partnership (and everyone’s favourite bromance).

Seeing each other’s blind spots.

Selecting a co-founder with different motivations is essential to illuminate and balance your blind spots. Blind spots are specific motivations that are critical to startup success, that you have either too much interest in, or not enough. Left unchecked, these blind spots can lead to business failure.

Our study of successful (and unsuccessful) entrepreneurs shows that to have the best chance of venture success, your founding team needs to be calibrated so that your combined motivations hit the ‘green zone’ for entrepreneurship. The ‘green zone’ is the attitudinal sweet spot for entrepreneurs; the perfect blend of motivational factors that will contribute to entrepreneurial success.

And this is the crux of why it’s not a good idea to start a business with your buddy.

The similarities that attract founders as friends also means that they’re unable to compensate for their shared blind spots.

Vive la difference!

The evidence is in, and not just from us: startups (any businesses, really) should prioritize diversity over similarity. If our hypothetical founding team had been designed to compensate for blind spots, with ideal founder preferences in mind, they could have used their differences to grow their business. Instead, it ended in failure, a dissolved friendship and poor nutrition.

Co-founders whose natural affinities and preferences are complementary have a far greater chance of entrepreneurial success. When it come to finding your perfect founding partner, Facebook is the last place you should look.

To find out your motivations and start the search for a complementary co-founder, join the Fingerprint for Success community today.

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