If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile now, you already know how much emphasis I put at the process of finding the right partner. Actually, wrong partner selection is THE single reason I’ve failed in multiple previous startups. Do NOT take this delicate process haphazardly.
To help you with this process, I’d like to share some practical questions you can ask a potential partner during an interview. This is by no means a comprehensive list – these are just a random, practical list of questions I’ve found to be pretty helpful over the years.
1) What are your own dreams for this startup?
You want a partner, not an employee. You want someone who will share your startup dream and very importantly, make it something bigger. Your potential partner HAS to have his own take on how to further build on your idea or vision.
Red flag answers:
“Well, uhm, I haven’t really thought of that.”
“It’s your vision, not mine.”
2) I really suck at _______, _________, and _________. What are YOUR weaknesses?
Weaknesses questions are very, very tricky in interviews. People know the question is coming and yet are are still befuddled by it. Moreover, you typically get people who won’t divulge real weaknesses and instead give you duh answers like:
“I work too hard”
“I’m a perfectionist.”
“I used to be bad with detail, but now it’s no longer a weakness.” (this means its a HUGE weakness!!)
In the co-founder search, the weakness/strength discussion is just so crucial. The whole point of getting a partner or two is to find people who will complement you and account for your weaknesses (and vice versa).
So you HAVE to have an honest, open conversation about strengths and weaknesses.
The first part of the question, “My weaknesses are…” is designed to make the interviewee more comfortable in divulging her own weaknesses by first divulging your own. Share these truthfully. If you are genuine, your interviewee WILL, more often than not, reciprocate.
Red flag answers:
“I work too hard.”
“I have worked so hard in correcting my weaknesses that now I have none.” (yep, I have gotten this multiple times)
3) How do you like to get rewarded?
I like this question precisely because it is a very general question and can lead the conversation where the interviewee chooses. You can then see patterns as far as motivation is concerned. Knowing what will motivate a partner is crucial in ensuring your partner/s stays with you.
For extrinsic rewards, be sensitive to answers which pertain to the timing of when the interviewee would want to get rewarded.
You want people who will believe in your idea and will work for FUTURE monetary rewards. You want to be talking more about equity, success-based rewards, and future plans, instead of negotiating current salary.
Which reminds me of another very strategic question to ask:
4) What are your current financial obligations?
This is an AWESOME question.
I’ve found that a person’s current financial situation is a HUGE determinant as to whether he would take a leap with you or not. Not only will you get a good picture of this, but this is also a VERY GOOD WAY of determining what the person’s minimum salary can be.
(If the person says “I’m paying around P3000 a month for the phone bill and around P4000 for gas. that’s it.” and then he says later on, “I would require a fulltime salary of P40,000,” then you have a red flag.)
I just am realizing this right now as I type this – I hope I won’t regret posting these when I do future founder interviews…
5) Can you design/program/sell/ ________ for me right now?
These are the three classic roles for the ideal founding team: a design expert, a programmer (or more generally, your MAKER/PRODUCER), and your pitchman.
How do you know if they can do the role well? Make them exhibit it. Make them audition.
Make the pitcher give you a 5-minute pitch. Ask the programmer to code. Make the designer draw something. Don’t rely on a portfolio (you’re not sure if they really did it). Rely on what they could produce right there and then. This will take time yes, but believe me, its worth it.
Red flag answers:
Other quick suggestions:
– NEVER partner from just one interview. Do AT LEAST 3. Ask many references. And then work on a small project together before shelling out any equity. This is not an employee. This is a marriage. Be thorough.
– If its been a long time already and you haven’t found a partner yet? (I know some people who are now at year 3 of the search). Just start and incorporate. The work you will do (assumption: you do good work) WILL attract potential partners. Who knows, you might not even need one.