"Choosing a co-founder and choosing someone to marry is probably one of the best comparative analogies"--that's an interesting aspect of entrepreneurship especially if you have decided that you would like to go about making your startup the one with a partner who would be part of your journey for the long haul.
I would like to argue friendship, family and parenthood also make for great analogies. But I know for a fact that when I end up finishing this article, I'd go ahead and change that aspect, because I would realize why they say these things and why that is one of the best analogies. I'm guessing you would too.
So anyways without dwelling on that let me try and objectively focus on what aspects would matter and are more crucial for entrepreneurs to ensure their journey and startups are successful in terms of their short term goals and long term visions.
So what does it take to go out there and make sure that the co-founder you choose for is the right one "for you". Yes, it's important that your first question should be this and not to find that "perfect co-founder" as the myth goes.
How well do you know them?
Yes it's always an advantage to choose someone whom you've already worked with before. Maybe not as a co-founder but in other capacities. It's always good to be partners with someone whom you have heard of before, appreciated their work and know about what they can bring to the table. And I'm not saying it's a mandatory criteria that always needs to work. It's always okay to choose someone whom you don't know, but it's also imperative that you know what he or she can bring to the table.
What is key is of course you make the choice on the basis of how much you know they would complement your style and what advantage they would give you and vice-versa.
What skill sets do they possess?
Always a good idea to make sure that both of you possess skill sets that are as unique as possible and the ones that would help you be the dynamic duo that will increase the pace at which you achieve your goals. One could be a marketing wiz while the other a great manager to drive operations. One could be very good at analysis while the other could be someone who is great at understanding design. Either way it's a good idea to ensure proper distribution of roles and bring more perspective to the startup especially if you need to create a structured approach at your success.
How flexible and open-minded are they?
Objectivity and open mindedness are some skills that bring a lot to the table especially if you are working in a dynamic state. Most startups these days face challenges which are very dynamic in nature and a lot of the times, a good thing for both founders to have is to be able to rationalize, objectively discuss and be strategic as well as open minded in terms of the decisions they take together.
Of course there will be disagreements at times, but it's always good to realize and have people around whom you know are flexible and open to learning and to listening to fresh ideas, views and expressions. It's one thing to be headstrong and pull a rabbit out of the hat, it's another to accept you were wrong in failure. And one who is able to do that, certainly makes for a good co-founder.
What's their thinking approach?
A key driver when it comes to choosing a co-founder. You don't want to end up with someone who's thinking approach is completely diverse or for that matter completely different. It's always important that they share their vision in terms of the long term approach that you are in for in the startup. It's always a good idea to stay away from the overly rational short-term thinkers.
Choose someone who has the vision and shares the passion for the long term goal that you have for your startup. Whether you want to get acquired, or go in for an IPO or keep at raking in the profits till you can and expand to the core, choose someone who shares the ideology with you.
Timing is the key
It isn't always necessary for you to have a co-founder from day one or to choose someone as a co-founder before you've started working on your product or business and we all know that. Of course it's a good idea to ensure that the co-founder comes into picture when his skill sets are required and adds value then. Of course from day one it's a good idea if you have him along on the structuring and shaping of the startup, however it's not always mandatory.
Sometimes you end up choosing them even before you have the idea. Many entrepreneurs proactively say this: "I’m not ready for a co-founder. Let the idea shape up first. I'll think about it later on." It's always good to keep an eye for your co-founders and talk about potentials of running a business without sharing too much of your idea or not sharing at all. Keep an eye for them, but ensure when you bring them in, you bring them in wholeheartedly with the "right time" as you think it to be.
Good communication drives better partnership
How well both of you can communicate with each other always helps. I've already highlighted the importance of rationality before, and that plays an important role when it comes to communicating with your co-founder. Would they be able to openly give you a critical feedback when you've made the wrong decision without having qualms on how you feel about it?
That's something as important as how open and flexible they are accepting feedback. It's always good to learn from each others mistakes. There will be a lot of stress in startups and it's imperative that the communication between both of you should be able to supersede those situations. Mutual respect and trust, being able to openly and clearly talk to each other always helps. Like other relationships or marriage for that matter co-founders will face lots of ups and downs. The best way forward is the ability to talk through the challenges all the way.
These were some of the important aspects that I think are relevant while choosing co-founders, and as cliched as it may sound, the analogy of course fits and now you know why... What do you think? Any other attributes I'm missing out? Do let me know.