5 Absolute Must-Haves For Co-Founder Compatibility

Here are the five most important things to consider when looking for your own co-founders.

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  1. Similar life stage.

    At Enplug, the fact that all of us were willing to move out of our homes into a tiny apartment with each other said that we were at parallel life stages in terms of our view on work-life balance (i.e., we didn’t care about the life part).

    I’ve heard of situations where one founder works late into the night and the other is at home putting kids to sleep; causing serious conflict of expectations. Do you and your co-founders agree on working weekends and late nights? If not, it’s not a deal-breaker, but be upfront about your time commitment.

  2. Comparable financial position.

    For both of my companies, Nanoly and Enplug, all of the founders agreed from day one to forgo a salary for several years. We all live off of our savings and work on our startup full-time. It was important that we didn’t have unpaid debt that would require us to pick up a part-time job.

    Is your co-founder starting a company because she doesn’t care about her steady salary from Google and wants to build cool things, or because she can’t get hired and needs to make money to pay bills? Both scenarios can lead to successful companies, but they will likely take very different paths to get there. Sharing a similar goal for your startup’s financial outcome helps set a good foundation.

  3. Complementary skill sets.

    Founding a startup with five co-founders is rare. We were able to make it work because each of us focused on building a separate component of the startup: design, hardware, finance, operations, software. I find that conflict is more common when founders share the same skill set because they end up stepping on each others’ toes.

  4. Shared values.

    While our expertise varies, we share the same values. These values include being respectful to each other at all times, even during intense conflict, and maintaining integrity and honesty. We think taking risks is the best way to learn.

    We are inherently optimistic people and believe there’s a solution to every challenge. We are motivated by the opportunity to build game-changing technology. Shared values matter because they shape how your startup team will be built and nurtured.


Finding a spouse is not a science and searching for the right co-founder is the same way. My co-founders and I committed to working with each other through sickness and health, even though we knew each other for less than a week at the time. My parents got married four months after they met and stayed happily married. Maybe falling in love at first sight is in my genes.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Nanxi Liu is the Co-Founder and CEO of Enplug, a Los Angeles technology company that builds the industry-leading software that powers digital displays in malls, restaurants, retail stores, and more. Marriott, Posche, and 350 companies around the world use Enplug’s software to showcase real-time and interactive content on their displays including RSS feeds and social media. Enplug was named Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 30 Startups to Watch and Inc. Magazine’s Top 5 Women-Led Startups to Watch. Nanxi is also founder and board member of Nanoly Bioscience, which developed a polymer that enables vaccines to survive without refrigeration. Nanoly was awarded NASA’s Top 10 New Tech Companies and Intel’s Top Social Innovation. Connect with @nanxi_liu on Twitter.

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