The TC Europe Guide to choosing a co-founder

Being an startup founder is like playing the piano. It’s something you can really only learn by doing, but some instruction goes a long way. TechCrunch Europe is therefore launching a series of articles offering advice on common issues faced by first-time entrepreneurs. Here’s the first.

As Paul Graham says “Cofounders are for a startup what location is for real estate.” They are one of the most important predictors of success and one of the most difficult things to change. A business partnership is a bit like a marriage and divorce will probably be painful. So choose wisely based on the paraphrased wisdom of our readers.

You need at least one co-founder

(Alastair Mitchell, Huddle)

Young businesses can be immeasurably damaged when the founder constantly chases after the next big thing or indulges in random tinkering. A co-founder provides a counterbalance in decisions so you are less likely to flip and flop on a whim. He also acts as an emotional counterweight. When you are down, your co-founder will probably be up and vice versa.

Make sure you have a true co-founder

(Alastair Mitchell, Huddle)

When we started Huddle one of us was able to put up more money than the others but we decided to split the invesment and shares absolutely equally between the co-founders. This was probably the best decision we ever made. It ensured we had equal “skin in the game” and decisions were made jointly, not because one person could force them through.

Choose a co-founder who fills the competency gaps

(Andrew Gill, Chatbadge)

The starting point is to identify the core competencies your startup needs, which ones you can provide and the gaps you need your co-founder to fill. Once you know the competencies, then network at events where you can find people who have these competencies.

Choose a techie

(Raphael Arbuz,WatZatSong)

I’ve seen several projects here in France (despite the great numbers of engineers available) which stalled because of the lack of someone to do some development and evolve the product. If you don’t have someone technical on your team, then when you reach the end of your development budget you have no solution other than additional funding.

Choose a co-founder who shares your view of success

(Edd McArdle, Inside)

Clarify between all the co-founders what success means and what failure means. For some founders, success is making a living from doing something meaningful. For others it may be an IPO and a private jet. You need to have common expectations and make them explicit. Don’t just assume that you have the same views  on this because you know each other well.

Chose your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse… or at least someone you can fight with

(Robert Pohl, That’sToday)

We are so close that we can argue a lot and be very frank with each other. The down-side, but also the up-side, is that we both work constantly since the company is everything for us right now.

Don’t overthink. Follow your gut

(Claire Boonstra, Layar)

When you have the same energy level as your partners, you don’t need to constantly explain how and why, you continuously build on each others’ ideas and your gut feeling says that it’s right… it probably is.

Next week we tackle bootstrapping your startup. Input is welcome via Twitter or email.