Many people choose to travel the entrepreneurial path alone. But for some, the idea of finding a partner who can provide emotional and professional support, share responsibilities, and help get the work done is a more attractive avenue. A partner can provide another perspective, help you to make big, complicated decisions, and serve as an avid listener when things get tough.
If this is the route you want to take, there are some serious issues to consider. What personalities do you work best with? What skills and qualifications are important? What type of attitude should you look for in an individual?
A great co-founder can propel your growth. The wrong choice could be catastrophic to your fledgling business.
We asked a few agency executives for advice on what to look for in a co-founder when you're launching an agency. Here's what they had to say:
Question the Motivation
Look for someone with the right motivation. If your main source of motivation is money, it'll be a rocky road. But if your motivation is driven by your passion in marketing, technology, and helping clients succeed, the money will come and the journey will be a great one.
Lots of people will suggest that you look for someone with a complimentary skill set -- a developer or marketer to your design skills, for example. That's certainly useful, especially in the early days before you build out a team. But, most importantly, you need to find someone you can work with. A partner who shares your work ethic and business values. This isn't likely someone you're already friends with. Friendships often get in the way of doing business. It's OK to become friends after you know you can work as a team. Do a few projects together before you jump into a business partnership. If that works well, then you can consider co-founding an agency.
Avoid a mirror image of yourself, and instead, think about the capabilities, personality, characteristics, and experiences that are valuable to an enterprise and aren’t part of who you are. So if you’re a brilliant young web designer, partner with an older strategic or content savant. When you sit down jointly, whether in front of a prospect, your banker, or a potential new hire, they will be blown away by your collective gravitas and your genius at recognizing you’re both made stronger and more valuable though addition.
If you are a marketer that is starting an agency and have never built a startup, you need someone who has the experience and the drive to scale, recruit talent, and maintain margin integrity within your retainers. Just being a great marketer isn’t enough to run an agency, manage and retain employees, scale profitably, and run the back office. I see too many agencies just focusing on the marketing component of the business and struggling with the other 80%.
Consider choosing a really successful client as co-founder! I did. My first inbound client was driven and asked tough questions. He was a business owner who really embraced inbound marketing (and HubSpot as a tool). We formed a partnership and co-founded our agency based on his success with inbound marketing.
Someone who is willing to do the work. There are many people who can sit around the table and talk; however, you need someone who is willing to put in the work. To effectively get an agency off the ground, you need someone who is willing to work the long hours and get in the trenches. Nothing within the agency should be below them. To get buy-in from both clients and coworkers, a co-founder needs to be willing to put the work in and take care of business on all levels.
Look for relevant experience and a very impressive book of contacts that can either open up doors to bigger clients or strategic alliances with companies that are selling to your niche audience.
If you're a sales person who loves the lime light, try to find someone who hates all that -- for example, someone who is happier steeped in detail, spreadsheets, and finances.You should complement one another -- you know what they say, opposites attract!
The biggest mistake I see time and time again is that co-founders that are too similar and have the same weaknesses.
I’m hesitant to tell new agency owners exactly what to look for in a co-founder because your core values deeply influence what you need in a partner. It all starts with knowing yourself. Understand where you won’t compromise, recognize and openly acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses, and clarify your vision for who you want to become and your goals for the future.
For agency owners specifically, I would make sure that your vision for the agency matches up with your potential co-founder’s vision. Will you be a remote or in-person agency? Will you focus on a vertical niche? Is this a lifestyle business or a high-growth opportunity? You need to work through and agree on these issues.
More than experience or skill set, do they have strong interpersonal skills and a passion for learning and growth? In a rapidly evolving environment, this is a major determinant of your success.
An agency needs two people at the top: 1) One to get the work, and 2) One to get the work done.
When choosing a co-founder (for either role), look for someone you respect, a person who has experience in the role (i.e., has been in leadership in a company), and someone you've had many interactions with already.