I know very little about finance or operations. Should I seek a co-founder?

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How can I go about finding a business brain for my start-up?I’ve devised a new technology that I think has great potential, but I have little idea about financials, operations, etc.

How can I best pair up with a business co-founder in order to present a more rounded picture to investors?

You have raised an important issue for all company founders. At an early stage, founders need to decide whether to “go it alone” or to partner with others to grow the business.

It is rare for any executive to possess all the skills required, and it is common for the “visionary” to hire or partner with a financial or operational expert; a person who can focus on the detail, and who can “keep the trains running”.

This will, as you also suggest, definitely create a stronger picture for investors, and then for staff and customers. In my experience, the best founders and business builders are able to recognise their own strengths and weakness and to “hire around” themselves. Famous examples in the tech world are Bill Gates hiring Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs hiring Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg luring Sheryl Sandberg away from Google and so on.

So how do you identify and attract the right person to be a co-founder?

First, you should write a list of the key skills and experience that you think you need now, and for the next three years.

Second, the most relevant person will be working in the same industry sector that your business is targeting and may be a CFO or COO looking to move into a nimble new business with more equity upside. If you are entering the online retail market you might find the right executive from eBay; if it is online travel then Wotif or Expedia would be sources for executives.

Third, use LinkedIn to find relevant executives at the companies you admire or aim to compete with, and determine if and how you are connected to them.

If not directly connected, ask around and start attending industry networking events and “put the word out”. If you have a compelling business or product proposition you should be able to meet the right people over a coffee and to be able to determine if there is a good match of skills, expectations and “culture”.

Finally, the structure of your partnership could be varied – a straight 50:50 with an equal co-investment of working capital, a salaried role with less equity, or a trial period for both of you and then an agreement to sit down in three months to work out what the terms of your business relationship might be.

Many founders fail because they refuse to share the journey with others, and then fail to attract supportive partners and staff for when the going gets tough.

“No man is an island,” John Donne wrote 400 years ago and it is even more apt now. You have done well to articulate the need for a partner to complement your skills.

This article was first published in StartUpSmart.

© 2013 – 2014, Philip Alexander. All rights reserved.

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