Red Flags: Identifying Incompatible Co-founders

Our checklist of red flags for co-founders. Evaluating these signs early on can help co-founders and teams address issues before they escalate and determine whether a partnership is viable in the long run.

What are some signs you look for that a co-founder or team member is not going to work out?

Étienne Garbugli and Sean Murphy discuss signs of incompatible co-founders including excessive ego, greed, and inflexibility. Divergence in future vision, organizational structure, and control issues can lead to conflicts. Adaptability and collaborative traits are essential. Resolving conflicts involves regular communication, honest discussions, setting checkpoints, and valuing each other’s input. A successful partnership hinges on achieving more together and prioritizing progress over being right.

Below is a video of a couple of co-founder stories:

Our Checklist of red flags for co-founders

Expanding on their discussion and stories, here is our checklist of red flags. We often suggest that teams do short-term projects together to “date” and get to know each other.

Several signs suggest that a co-founder or team member might not work out:

  • Co-founder is not really entrepreneurial: They are unprepared for the level of uncertainty in a startup and don’t appreciate the need for flexibility and exploration to make progress.
  • 1 + 1 < 2: There is not enough synergy between co-founders. You should be more effective working together than working independently. You may have disagreements–you should have disagreements–but these disagreements on balance should be a source of creative solutions and useful perspectives on challenges. If co-founders lack the complementary skills required for the company’s success, it can lead to gaps in execution.
  • Control Issues: When one co-founder insists on maintaining full control and doesn’t value input from others. One founder keeps all the equity out of the desire for complete control.
  • Greed: A focus on personal gain, often at the expense of the company’s goals, values, or the interests of other stakeholders.
  • Divergent Future Vision: If co-founders don’t share a similar long-term vision for the company, it can lead to conflicts over direction and goals.
  • Different Work Values: A significant difference in dedication and meeting commitment can result in frustration and imbalanced contributions.
  • Resistance to Feedback: Lack of understanding of the need for learning and improvement that requires listening to feedback from other team members and customers.
  • Inflexibility: An inability to adapt to changing circumstances or compromise on important decisions can hinder progress and growth.
  • Unreliable Commitment: Frequent absenteeism, missed deadlines, or a lack of dedication can negatively impact the team’s productivity and morale.
  • Lack of Initiative: Team members who consistently wait for instructions rather than take proactive steps can slow decision-making.
  • Unproductive Conflict: While healthy disagreements can lead to better solutions, constant negative conflicts drain energy and hinder progress.
  • Co-founder takes your silence as consent: You need a process for affirmative decision making that requires a working consensus on major issues. If you are more reserved, you have to learn to speak up. If you are more extroverted, you need to learn to check in explicitly.
  • You or your co-founder have to be “right”: This is going to limit your ability to negotiate internally for viable compromise solutions and to close deals with customers

Evaluating these signs early on can help co-founders and teams address issues before they escalate and determine whether a partnership is viable in the long run.

Check out the full podcast

Read the transcript  of the full podcast

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