Finding a spouse is not a science and searching for the right co-founder is the same way. As with spouses, business partners must be committed to working with each other through sickness and health of the company. A group of successful startup CEOs recently asked fellow members in an online forum: when do you know that it’s okay to start a company with someone? About half a dozen responded that you should start with someone you’ve known for a few years and several months at the least. They also chimed in that you should start a company with someone you’ve had experience working with.
Contrary to the above, Enplug, a company that develops intelligent software for digital displays, was founded by five strangers. One week after meeting for the first time, the co-founders moved into an apartment to live and work together. Two years later, they had grown to 35 teammates and moved their office from the house to a building in Los Angeles, notes Enplug Co-Founder and CEO Nanxi Liu. The Los Angeles technology company builds industry-leading software that powers digital displays in malls, restaurants, retail stores, and more. Marriott, Posche, and 350 companies around the world use Enplug’s software to showcase real-time and interactive content on their displays including RSS feeds and social media.
Rather than taking months to get acquainted, Liu and her fellow co-founders accelerated the process of determining whether to work together through finding commonalities. Liu also is a co-founder of Nanoly Bioscience, a company that took root at a college bar when she met co-founder, Balaji Sridhar. The duo started working on a company together the next day. That was 2011. Four years later, the company was growing faster than ever
Here are the five most important things to consider emphasizes Liu when you are looking for your own co-founders:
- Mutual admiration. This is an absolute must. There should be a sense of admiration and respect for each other. Co-founders should view each other as equals. No one should have to beg for other partners’ approval. What’s more, you know it’s a good sign if you’re proud of sharing your new co-founder with others.
- Similar life stage. “At Enplug, the fact that all of us were willing to move out of our homes into a tiny apartment with each other said that we were at parallel life stages in terms of our view on work/life balance (i.e., we didn’t care about the life part),” Liu explains. There are situations where one founder works late into the night and the other is at home putting kids to sleep, causing serious conflict between their expectations for each other. Everyone should be upfront about their time commitment.
- Comparable financial position. For both Nanoly and Enplug, the founders all agreed from day 1 to forgo any salary for several years and to live off of their savings in order to work on their startup full time. “It was important that we didn’t have unpaid debt that would require us to pick up a part-time job,” notes Liu. Sharing a similar goal for your startup’s financial outcome helps set a good foundation.
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