The Ben to Your Jerry: 3 Steps to Finding the Perfect Co-Founder

Use these three techniques to find the perfect partner in crime.

Did you know that, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company met in junior high?

Photo: Chris Burnam, President of StorageMart; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Chris Burnam, President of StorageMart; Source: Courtesy Photo

It’s true! The duo met when Jerry fainted in gym class. Later, after Ben tried (and failed) to become a potter and Jerry couldn’t get into medical school, they decided to reconvene over a mutual love: food. After a $5 course on ice cream and a $12,000 investment in equipment, Ben & Jerry’s was born.

This is just one example of a successful partnership. Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble, Young & Rubicam, Intel, Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft are all headed by twosomes, as well.

Obviously, a partnership worked in their favor, so what’s to say that isn’t exactly what your new business needs? After all, startups are hectic, and having a partner to shoulder some of the burden can go a long way toward helping your company achieve success.

Not only can a co-founder bring the skills and talents necessary to maximize thinking and decision-making, but he or she can also provide additional contacts to help with logistics and take on some of the daily demands.

But for every dynamic duo you also hear horror stories of partnerships gone wrong. Adopting a co-founder isn’t a risk-free decision, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. A haphazardly chosen co-founder might not share your drive, work ethic, and ideas, which could have terrible results.


3 Top Co-founder Qualities

To avoid disaster, it’s crucial to choose wisely when going into business with someone else. A great co-founder must complement your strengths and weaknesses. Where you struggle, she should excel, and vice versa.

Your co-founder should:

  1. Share your vision. If you work with someone who isn’t on the same page, you’ll likely spend more time arguing than getting anything done. You don’t have to agree on everything, but having a shared vision is important for a balanced partnership.
  2. Be a go-getter. Doing business with someone who’s lazy will weigh you down and hurt your business’s reputation. You need a co-founder who looks forward to being there every day.
  3. Be a great executor. Given the scrappy nature of a startup, you need someone with a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude. You’ll have enough challenges without dealing with a lazy partner.


How to Find Your Business Match

After you’ve determined the qualities you’re looking for in a co-founder, you have to actually find her. Use these three techniques to find the perfect partner in crime:


  • Network at Conferences

    If you’re starting a company, you obviously know how to network, so use those skills to find a co-founder. Attend conferences in your industry, and talk to the movers and shakers to see who’s looking for a partner. If you struggle finding conferences to attend, use AllConferences.com. It’s a great conference search tool. Before you leave, check for a conference app that facilitates networking by sending you conference event invites. While you’re there, talk to your existing connections, give them a clear description of the co-founder you’re looking for, and ask them if they know anyone who might be interested. Screen new connections based on your ideal co-founder qualities.

  • Leverage Digital Tools

    In the digital age, there are numerous tools you can use to look for young, ambitious people in your industry. LinkedIn provides a wealth of information. Search for professionals, and join groups so you can talk and connect with others. There’s even a LinkedIn Group for people looking for co-founders. Several other sites are designed to help you meet a partner. LetsLunch.com, for example, is a tool used to meet with like-minded professionals for lunch. And FounderDating is a social network for entrepreneurs, advisers, and co-founders. Applicants are thoroughly vetted before being approved.

  • Leave It to Chance

    Don’t rely too heavily on technology, though. Many famous co-founders found each other without all of the tech tools we have today. Hewlett and Packard, for example, met at Stanford. The two shared a passion for the outdoors, and they relished turning theory into new products. They actually flipped a coin to decide whose name would go first, and they launched their company in a garage.

As an entrepreneur, you’re essentially spotting and acting on an opportunity that others can’t see. It’s the same with a partner. In your quest for a co-founder, do your homework, but be open to the gifts of fortuity.

While you can’t clone yourself just yet, you can find a co-founder to carry some of your startup’s weight and help it succeed. Although it can be hard to let someone else take the reigns every once in a while, you don’t have to go it alone. There’s someone for everyone, and with a little luck, you’ll find your perfect match.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Cris Burnam has been working in the self-storage industry since 1987. He has served as president of StorageMart since founding the company with his brother Mike Burnam in 1999. Cris grew StorageMart from a single self-storage facility into the world’s largest privately owned self-storage company with 149 locations across the U.S. and Canada. Cris was named a 2014 EY Entrepreneur of the Year in the Services and Real Estate category (Central Midwest region) — one of the highest honors an American entrepreneur can receive. Connect with @StorageMart on Twitter.


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