Reading time: 5 mins

The essential ingredients of a successful co-founder relationship

12 November 2018


Bookshops are overflowing with guides on how to find your perfect soulmate.

However, I haven’t yet found one that tells you how to track down the ideal co-founder for your business.

So I sat down with my fellow Octopus co-founder Chris Hulatt, and between us we came up with our own list.

The first thing we agreed on was how much easier it is to set up a business with a co-founder.

No one else will come close to understanding how fundamental a part of each of us the business has become, or how personally we take any setbacks or failures.

But if we had to set out a practical list of what to look for in a co-founder, here’s what our top five would look like:

Ingredient #1: Not carbon copies, but pretty similar

In life there’s an adage that opposites attract. We don’t think that holds true for start-ups.

Your co-founder needs to have a very similar outlook on life. Your values need to be the same and you both have to share the same obsession for your business.

Building a business is unbelievably hard work and it doesn’t get any easier as the business scales.

The rollercoaster of not knowing whether you will survive from one month to the next will expose any differences in values, or work ethic, very quickly.

The work ethic point is worth dwelling on. Building a business is unbelievably hard work and it doesn’t get any easier as the business scales.

Very few people are capable of sustaining the required level of work beyond a few months, let alone a few years or decades.

Ingredient #2: Trust

Going into business with someone is as big a decision as getting married. Only you’ll spend way more time with your co-founder than you will with your life partner. If you don’t totally and implicitly trust each other, it won’t work.

You need to have the kind of relationship where you’re both true to yourself – warts and all.

Nothing should go unsaid, and you should never feel like you’re hiding something (particularly your own weaknesses) from the other person.

Getting this right will create a musketeer mentality of “one for all and all for one” which is unbreakable.

Ingredient #3: Curiosity and willingness to take risks

The world is changing more quickly than ever before. The people, and the companies, which succeed will be the ones which are most capable of embracing and running with these changes.

To do this means your co-founder needs to be comfortable taking risks and getting things wrong.

So many entrepreneurs are too scared of making a mistake to really break the mould.

The last point is important because so many entrepreneurs are too scared of making a mistake to really break the mould.

You need a co-founder who doesn’t worry about looking silly in front of others, and who won’t rule out trying something for fear of embarrassment.

Ingredient #4: Kindness

When you ask outsiders about entrepreneurs, they tend to be classified in a few different ways. Kindness is rarely one of the attributes they’re given. Chris and I think that’s going to change.

We think entrepreneurs, and their businesses, have a responsibility to all of their stakeholders – their employees, their customers and the world around them.

Without kindness, we don’t think it’s possible to build a business that will last. Or at least not one you’ll be proud to talk to your grandchildren about.

Ingredient #5: Resilience

Part of the role of the founders of a business is to act as the ‘chief antibodies’. They must ensure that the values and the culture don’t degrade as the business scales.

They must ensure that your millionth customer is made to feel the same way as your first (thank you Mr Gower).

At no point is it OK for founders of a business to transmit their stress. It kills the mood.

Founders are there to absorb the stress and to get the most from their teams. This requires a resilience and a temperament that can be difficult to find.

For most entrepreneurs, it’s the journey – rather than the end point – that’s so rewarding.

Think of it as like a marriage. You (hopefully) didn’t marry your partner because they were “better than the last one” or because “they’d do”.

You waited until you found “the one”.

The joy in having a co-founder is being able to share your success with someone who truly understands all of the sacrifices and hard times that were required to make it happen.

For most entrepreneurs, it’s the journey – rather than the end point – that’s so rewarding.