By: Christina DesMarais
To head off problems down the road, any prospective partner must bring a lot more than talent to the table. Here’s what else to look for.
With artists for parents, Maida Fortune is intimately aware of the trials and tribulations creative types go through to sell their work. So her idea, Cureeo–an online marketplace for original art–made a lot of sense to her.
The University of Chicago Booth School of Business MBA candidate is smart, though, and knew better than to set off on her own. For one thing, while dreaming up Cureeo Fortune worked as a venture capital associate for Hyde Park Angels and OCA Ventures and saw firsthand that investors are skeptical of solo acts.
“You have to have serious traction or present a very, very good case for yourself and even then the next question they ask is ‘Who are you adding to your team and when?'” she says.
So she started looking for a partner. She considered peers from her MBA program, but they were too much like her. She interviewed people she found at tech meet-ups, but with no luck. Finally, she tried Founder2be, an online service that helps entrepreneurs find co-founders. There, she met Abid Ali, who now shares the Cureeo helm and is the company’s CTO.
The partnership is going swimmingly, Fortune says, although if you want to emulate her successful matchmaking, there are several things you should consider.
Don’t waste your time interviewing people until you vet their proven track records.
Fortune says she interviewed all too many programmers who claimed to be able to build a platform, but when it really came down to it, many of them hadn’t coded in years. Before even talking to Ali, she scoped out his recent work and found it to be rock solid.
Be brutally honest with yourself.
When Fortune worked in venture capital she saw it all the time–arrogant entrepreneurs who think they have all the skills they need to hit a home run, yet nothing could be further from the truth. “Successful business owners are really good at recognizing what their own weaknesses are and building up a team around those weaknesses. And they’re also humble enough to bring on people that are better than they are,” she says.
Put expectations down on paper in the beginning.
How long are team members going to work on a start-up before giving up? What kinds of things might pull people away from focusing on the business? At what point will people quit their full-time jobs? These kinds of questions need to be asked right away, and their answers put to paper. While nothing is set in stone, and it’s not a legally binding document, Fortune says it’s helpful to know a year into it if everybody is doing what they said they would. (On her bookshelf: The Partnership Charter, by David Gage.)
Understand one another’s risk profiles.
Everyone has a different sense of risk that they’re willing to absorb, she says. For example, if one person can go without a salary for six months and the other person can go a year without pay, the first person might get distracted about four months in, thinking about how he or she is going to pay the bills.
“Or, say there is one path for the business with a higher probability for making money in the short run, but less payout overall,” Fortune says. “Say the other path is less certain, but the potential payout in the end is higher. The company can’t execute both strategies. The person with the higher tolerance for risk may be more inclined to try for the second option, while the person with lower tolerance would prefer the first option. This can ultimately lead to conflict.
Understand personality types.
Through their Chicago incubator Fortune and Ali took a personality test thanks to research the Kauffman Foundation was funding. While the duo knew they were polar opposites, the formal assessment gave them a starting point for discussing their differences. “You don’t want a team of people who are all similar to one another because then you have groupthink problems and affirmation bias and all that junk,” she says. “You want people who are different. You’ve got to learn how to work together and you can’t work together unless A) you respect one another and B) you have to have a vernacular to talk about things.”