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Start Your Business Startup Basics

Choosing a Business Partner? 4 Qualities to Look For

Choosing a Business Partner? 4 Qualities to Look For
Credit: xtock/Shutterstock

Starting a business by yourself can be a highly challenging and intimidating task. That's why so many entrepreneurs choose to work in a team and launch their startups with a trusted business partner or two.

It's great to have someone else to share in your business's triumphs and struggles, but if you don't choose the right person for the job, your entrepreneurial journey could end up being more difficult than it needs to be. When you start a business, you're going to devote most of your time and energy to it, so it's critical to find a partner who is not only willing to put in that same effort, but is also someone you can work well with under the pressures of entrepreneurship.

We asked business owners about the qualities they looked for when choosing their co-founder(s), and how to tell if a business partnership is going to work out. [How to Make Your Business Partnership Succeed]

You have a good relationship with them.

Starting a business with a friend is a dicey proposition. You might think that because you get along well, you'll be great in business together, but the challenges you'll face may test even the strongest of friendships. That's why Adam Kalamchi, co-founder of Brilliant Bicycle Co., said it's best to find a co-founder with whom you have an existing personal and professional relationship.

"[The person should be] someone with complementary skills and even somewhat complementary personalities so you balance each other out through the ups and downs," Kalamchi said. "Someone who ... won't give up when things get difficult, which they will. Someone you can be furious with but still love to death."

"With founders who start as friends, [you have to] acknowledge that the relationship might change," added Lauren Schwab, who co-founded lingerie company Negative Underwear with her college friend Marissa Vosper. "You work with this person and see [him or her] so much. We're more like sisters than friends."

They're trustworthy.

Trust and reliability are two core tenets of any solid relationship. You shouldn't have any lingering doubts about the commitment or abilities of the person you choose to go into business with.

"First and foremost, [find] someone with integrity — someone whom you can trust implicitly and who you know will be true to what they commit to," said Kevin Madden, founder of nightlife resource app NightOwl.

"When you start a business, you're inevitably doing things you've never done," Vosper added. "[You must] trust and respect that the other person is willing and able to do it."

Melissa Mash, CEO of handbag designer and retailer Dagne Dover, noted that a person's behavior outside of the professional realm is a good indicator of what they'd be like as a business partner.

"If you notice that someone burns bridges in his or personal relationships, he or she is probably going to do the same thing in business," Mash told Business News Daily. "If he or she doesn't take responsibility for his or her actions with their friends and family, he or she is absolutely not going to take responsibility for what happens in the office. These little examples say a lot about a person's values, and values drive most actions."

They'll make sacrifices for the business.

As mentioned above, starting a business means giving it your all and forgoing some of the luxuries of the "corporate world" to make your company thrive. You should be sure that your co-founder is just as dedicated as you are.

"Look for people who ... show their passion for the idea and willingness to sacrifice for the startup," said Phyl Georgiou, co-founder of children's learning systems developer Tiggly. "[This] could be leaving a job and jumping on board full time at a lower or no salary, or investing a small amount of personal capital to kickstart the business."

Schwab said that she and Vosper knew they were good business partners because they were both willing to give up their nights, weekends and vacation time to work on their business alongside their full-time jobs.

"We didn't set out with the intention of starting a business together, [but] we both had a shared passion," Schwab said. "The four years spent pursuing it proved to us how invested we were in making our vision into a reality."

They complement your strengths and weaknesses.

A business that's run by two people who are great at software development but both lousy at marketing won't get very far in the early stages of growth. When Zach Supalla was starting Particle, a provider of hardware and software tools for managing Internet of Things products, he knew he needed a co-founder who had his same entrepreneurial drive, but also filled in the gaps in his own skill set.

"Co-founders should be perfect complements to one another," Supalla said. "They should each ... bring something different to the table. In our case, I have a business background and knowledge in hardware and supply chain, whereas my co-founder has a broad software background. Together, the two of us had the skills to build a product that got us off the ground, and we also have the skills to scale the team and grow from a startup into a real company."

Similarly, Garret Jiroux, CEO of video-creation app Tape, said he knew his co-founder Nick DeMoura was the right business partner because they played off each others' strengths and offset one another's weaknesses.

"[DeMoura] is truly a people person, which is essential for business development and driving users to our app, [and he] has a sense of urgency," Jiroux said. "I'm somewhat of a perfectionist, [and] my desire to constantly improve and strive towards perfection balances Nick's sense of urgency. We're able to meet in the middle and get work done efficiently, but also thoroughly."  

Above all else, Jiroux said to make sure the person you choose as your co-founder is equally passionate about the project.

"It's the only way to be successful," he said.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole Fallon received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.