How to Find the Right Business Partner: 3 Tips for Women & Minorities

You may have a great idea that you’ve been sitting on for a really long time, and you may feel quite alone. A great business partner can transform your entrepreneurial journey, but how do you find the right person? I’d like to share my road-tested tips from building a successful tech startup, excerpted and adapted from my new book, Mechanical Bull: How You Can Achieve Startup Success.

1. Make Connections

Many nontraditional entrepreneurs start their first venture alone for various reasons. For example, a stay-at-home mom’s professional network is not what it was when she was working full time. A younger person may still be building a professional network and doesn’t think she has the necessary connections to form a partnership or team.

In order to find people who share your passion and can get behind your idea, bring it out in the open and talk about it. It’s important to create paths to break through whatever your barrier is in order to give your concept the greatest chance of life.

As you talk about your idea and meet people who are interested, get to know them. If someone seems like they’d like to work with you, follow your gut. Don’t ignore your intuition just because they have a great résumé or lots of connections. You’ll know on the inside whether or not this is the right person. The questions and doubts that emerge from that gut level are usually right.

Likewise, if someone with a thinner résumé seems like a good match, think about how their strengths derived from life experiences may fill in for your weaknesses. Have they overcome great odds? Are they determined and persistent? Are they super smart or an amazing coder? If part of their experience is thin, look for balancing attributes.

2. Choose Someone with Real Skills

When looking for cofounders, assess their management experience. You don’t hear much about the importance of management skills, but a lack of those skills can cause a lot of problems when you begin to grow. At the beginning stages of most startups, there are only a few people, and everyone is doing all the work. Each person manages themselves but often no one else. As you scale the company, some people can’t transition from building the team to managing the team. If you bring in a co-founder who doesn’t have management experience, that’s on you.

Look for people who have done the things that they say they’ve done. Make sure they have relevant experience. Being your husband’s third cousin is not relevant experience. Those are two different things. Just because Peanut and Ray-Ray want to work in your company and are available doesn’t mean that’s a good idea. Peanut and Ray-Ray can find their own jobs without your help.

Every person on your team needs to bring their maximum to the table. Make the best choices you can. Be exquisitely careful in selecting your initial people because each one can make or break the success of your venture.

Jeanette Russell led our marketing at our startup Attentive.ly. She was amazing and now works at Blackbaud, who acquired us as a senior solutions nonprofit marketer. She believes that working at a startup accelerated her career and says,

Working for a startup can be an opportunity of a lifetime to develop your skills and confidence by creating a unique space for you to shine. Whether you’re a seasoned professional, a recent graduate, or simply feel like your talents aren’t aligned with your current job, the startup life allows you to hack and hustle your way to a radically empowering path.

Because each role is critical to the survival of the company, you will be put into a sink-or-swim situation which will test your ability to adapt to the problem of the day. Imagine being a department of one, performing core daily tasks, in addition to finding out about, oh let’s say, losing access to a key data stream which happened to be a competitive differentiator…and that’s just Monday. It’s a wild ride.

3. Pick Your Ride-or-Die Posse

Lastly, make sure you like and trust the people you bring on. You are in a startup, it’s ride or die, and this is your posse. One of the things that most commonly sinks young companies is infighting among the founding team. To provide a nerdy analogy, you want to form a Voltron — a super-robot that’s actually a bunch of smaller robots that create a bigger robot to better defend the universe. You do not want a bunch of robots fighting with each other, messing up Earth like one might see in the Transformers movies.

We asked our friend Charlene Li, Principal Analyst at Altimeter and author of the classic Groundswell, “How did you find your cofounders and prevent infighting among you?” She said,

Honestly, we weren’t very good at it! They are all good people, but we had a fundamental underlying difference of how we looked at the world and wanted to run the company. We tried to create a core set of values. Although we agreed to them, our interpretation of them was wildly different! The best thing we did was to incorporate feedback, training, and processes, and that helped tremendously by creating a foundation of transparency and trust. That allowed us to put out in the open any disagreements, and when the time came for departures, they were a lot easier because we knew we wanted to do well by each other.

Your cofounders will be in the thick of things right beside you, so trust your gut and make your decision wisely — the success of your business depends on it.

For more advice on starting your entrepreneurial journey, you can find Mechanical Bull on Amazon.

Cheryl Contee is the award-winning CEO and co-founder of Do Big Things, which brings together a diverse team that uses new narrative and new tech like blockchain, AI, bots and machine learning to make the world a better place for everyone. Previously, she was the co-founder and CEO of Fission Strategy, co-founder of groundbreaking social marketing software Attentive.ly at Blackbaud (the first tech startup with a black female founder on board in history to be acquired by a NASDAQ-traded company). She is also co-founder of #YesWeCode, which represents the movement to help low-opportunity youth achieve high-quality tech careers.

Chief Innovation Officer at The Impact Seat and Chair/Founder of Do Big Things