They say that when you meet “the one,” you just know. The same is true when you think about how to choose a co-founder, who, let’s face it, you’ll probably spend more time with than your S.O. during the birth and adolescence of your company.
Believe it or not, I met my co-founder Anna Auerbach over the phone after a mutual friend—who had met Anna just once—connected me to her as a networking resource. Anna was living in Las Vegas, while I was based in New York City. In that phone conversation, she shared her idea to build a business providing greater access to flexibility for credentialed women, and something in my gut said, “Yes, this is it.” And that’s when our company,Werk, was born.
Six weeks later, we had a business plan. Six months later, we raised $200K in funding and quit our jobs. Anna uprooted her life, joining me in NYC. We briefly moved in together for the summer—with three children and one babysitter between us—after having met in person just twice. Eighteen months after our first conversation, we had raised $4M in two rounds of venture capital, expanded our team to 15, and built a company set to change the way work looks—not just for women, but for everyone—forever.
While luck played a major role in our initial meeting, the decision to forge a partnership with Anna was a strategic one. I did my research. I asked the right questions. I looked for some must-have qualities. And more than 2,000 miles away, Anna was doing the same.
Because launching a business with another person can be a challenging, compromise-filled journey—but it can also give you the room and resources to super-charge your business. After all, for all the stats about how toxic co-founder relationships kill companiesmore surely than anything else, it’s also true that 67% of the world’s unicorns, or billion-dollar companies, were started by co-founders.If you’re considering going in with a partner, walk into that choice armed with knowledge and strategic thinking. Ahead, I’m breaking down the four most important questions I asked myself in my own decision-making process.
Do you complement each other?
If I had invented my perfect co-founder before meeting Anna, I would have chosen incorrectly because I would have looked for someone too much like me. As I got to know Anna over time, I realized that it’s our differences that give us our competitive edge.
Anna’s a fast talker who can build a financial model in 11 minutes, and I’m a deep thinker who wants to get the facts right. We don’t always see eye-to-eye, but that’s a good thing. We challenge each other, learn from each other, and keep each other honest. Your co-founder shouldn’t be a “yes person” who agrees with you on everything. While there is such a thing as being too different, having therightset of differences can be one of your greatest strengths.
Can they commit?
Find a co-founder who can commit. And I meanreallycommit. This person will be your lifeline and your most trusted confidante, and you won’t have the time or energy to pick up their slack if they’re not pulling their weight. Anna and I often joke that we’re in a business marriage—our devotion extends beyond ourselves to the team of powerhouses we’ve cultivated under our leadership. We finish each other’s thoughts and sentences, our children are best friends, and after a long work week we end up at other’s apartments plotting our next big move.
This is the level of devotion you should look for in a business partner. Do some reference checks, look at their employment history, dive deep into their social media accounts. Learn everything you can about your partner until you’re confident they can be all in.
How is their overall professionalism?
Both Anna and I have a background in professional services, which means we’re used to getting the job done, taking and receiving difficult feedback, and treating clients like gold. The stakes are even higher during a company’s infancy when you will likely be meeting with potential investors.
No matter how buttoned up you are during this process, you will face unexpected challenges and setbacks—including hard-hitting (and sometimesgender biased) questions that can put you on the spot. Does your potential partner have the communication skills and social savvy to navigate these situations? Would you feel confident sending them into a client or investor meeting solo? If the answer is no, keep looking.
Can they lead like a team?
Co-founders wear many hats, perhaps the most important of which is cultivating a work environment where all employees feel heard and understood, valued and supported. This often means putting the needs of the company ahead of your own when making difficult decisions.
There is no room for personal egos or agendas in this process. One of the reasons Anna and I work so well is because we always consider what’s best for the company—and our team—before coming to a decision. It’s never easy, but if you both keep the finish line in sight at all times, you’ll be on the quickest path to success—together.
Annie Dean is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Werk, a startup that uses data and insights to help companies embrace flexibility. A former corporate real estate attorney, Annie spent six years in Big Law closing billions of dollars of real estate deals for institutional lenders and equity owners. She is fascinated by simple answers to big questions.