Questions To Ask Potential Cofounders: The Master List

4 years ago by in Best of The Web, Idea To Biz Plan, Launch, Leadership + Speaking, Mentors Unplugged
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Shared by Misty Gibbs, Empower Lounge Founder

I’m a web strategy coach for RampCorp, a top business accelerator for women in Texas, and have noticed a recurring theme come up with our participants – cofounder breakups and the challenge with finding the right cofounder. Considering a cofounder relationship is similar to marriage – there’s lots of dating that needs to be done and questions to be asked.

To our rescue, here’s a very useful master list of questions shared by Jessica Alter, FounderDating Founder – an online community that brings together co-founders.

We often get asked what cofounders should look for or ask each other. We combined our knowledge with insight from our community  to create a master list of questions to ask potential cofounders, or rather to make sure you cover (going to down the list one-by-one might be awkward).  We’ve broken them down into four categories – Personalities and Incentives, Personal Priorities, Working Styles and Culture, Roles and Responsibilities – that really reflect the areas we find are key to matching up.

Personalities and Incentives – you have to spend a lot of time together, just having complementary skill-sets isn’t going to cut it. You really need to have chemistry and be aligned on why you’re building a company.

1. Why do you want to start a company (in general and in particular, right now)?

2. What motivates you (e.g. a technical challenge, an overall problem, helping the world, etc.)

3. What are our respective personal goals for the startup (e.g. a sustainable business that is spinning off cash and running it forever or high growth and some type of liquidity event)?

4. Will this be the primary activity for each of us?

  • What is the expected time commitment (now, in 6 months, 2 years, etc.)?
  • Are we allowed to take on anything outside of the company?

5. Would we sell this for $5mm?  $100mm?  Are we waiting for the billion dollar exit?

6.. Is there a part of our plan that we are unwilling to change (e.g. he product being built, the market being addressed or some other aspect of the company)? Pro-tip: the only guarantee is that things will change, so if someone isn’t open to that there is a problem.

Personal Priorities – risk tolerance varies by individual, so make sure you know where the other stands and that you’re both comfortable with it.

1. What are our personal cash needs in the short term?

2. Are we both going unpaid and when would this change?

  • If you’re not able to go full-time now, under what circumstances would you be able to start working on something full-time?

3. Do we want to raise outside money?

  • If so, how much – now, in 6 months, 2 years, over the life of the company?

Working Styles and Culture – this is so important and often overlooked. Think hard about the type of company you want to build culture-wise and make sure you’re aligned on how to build it.

1. If you had to come up with 3 words to describe the culture you want to create, what would they be (e.g. open, hard-working, eccentric)?  Pro-tip: if you’re really serious and far along go visit few office spaces together to get a sense of what each of you likes work environments wise and why.

2. What values do we want to instill in our employees?

3. If you could pick 2 things to change and two things to bring with you from your previous companies, what would they be and why?

4. How much equity are we allocating for future employees?

5. Who do we think the first 5 hires will be?

6. Ask for references or just back channel them! Don’t be afraid to do this, it’s important! We reference everyone in the FD network (yes, it’s true) and we still tell members to reference their potential cofounders before tying the knot.

Roles and Responsibilities – it’s great to have complementary skill sets, but there is such an immense amount of work to do at the beginning that you should make sure you agree on who is really going to own certain areas and which areas can/will be shared in the first 12-18 months.

1. What areas do you see yourself definitely wanting to be point-person on for the first 12-18 months?

  • What about me?
  • What are the areas you know you’re not particularly good at?

2. What do you think I am best at?

  • What do you think I need support for?
  • How will you help me succeed?   

3. How will decisions get made?

  • Can you outvote me?
  • Can either of us fire the other?
  • If one of us gets fired, what do we leave with?

4. Why do you think we’ll be good together?

5. Some of the legal stuff…

  • Have you ever been fired, gone to jail, or done anything that would materially impact your time with the company?
  • Do you  sit on any boards of companies and do you have any conflict of interest with our project?
  • Is there a ‘no compete’ clause that is active at this time?
  • Will any of us be investing cash in the company?  If so, how is this treated?  (e.g. debt?  convertible debt?  Does it buy a different class of shares?)

6. Have you worked and/or managed diverse teams and if so, how?

7. How do you think we should give feedback to each other (and the team)?

8. Who is going to be CEO (and why)? Are we both comfortable with this?

9. What’s the equity split and why?  Are we both comfortable with the reasoning behind this decision?

You can read the full article on FounderDating: The online community that aims to bring together super talented entrepreneurs with different backgrounds and skill sets to start innovative new companies.

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