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3 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Co-founder

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The co-founder of Tailour talks about why she decided to work with a co-founder and how she went about finding the perfect business partner.

By Chrissie Gorman (Co-founder, Tailour)

I have always been frustrated with clothing options for professional women.  As a consultant before business school, my closet was sharply divided between very professional, but generally unflattering, “work clothes” and clothes I actually chose to wear on the weekends.  While at Harvard Business School, I decided to address this problem by creating a brand that actually fit and flattered professional women. 

With that goal, I started Tailour, but realized I needed to find someone who had experience in clothing design and production to bring my vision to life.  Armed with a general idea of what I was looking for, I searched LinkedIn and my personal network to find the right co-founder.  Through a series of blind-date-esque coffees, I found my partner, Lauren Harris, who graduated from Parsons and has worked in design and production for several contemporary designers.

In the past year, Lauren and I have developed our first collection, created our website, hosted trunk shows around the country and, most satisfying, built a customer base of women across size, shape and profession who look and feel amazing in our dresses.  While I knew I wanted a partner on this journey, I don’t think I realized how much I needed Lauren until I got into the thick of things.  We share a vision, ambition and, most importantly, ownership of our brand.

I got lucky on the co-founder front, but it was not without a few careful decisions that I made. For those who are currently looking for a co-founder or may be in the future, here are a few of the key questions that were pivotal: 

Why a Co-Founder?

Noam Wasserman, a fantastic professor of mine at HBS, talks about founders making a tradeoff between rich or king.  King founders are focused on retaining control, with the possible downside of a smaller overall venture. With rich, a founder is making decisions (such as bringing on a co-founder) that might make the company more valuable, but bring down the level of ownership that he/she would have as a solo founder.

Personally, my vision is aligned with the “rich” bucket.  I see a huge market opportunity for Tailour, and want to create a substantial impact in this space, with the help of a skilled co-founder.

What Skill Set?

Take a step back. What is your core offering as a business?  For Tailour, it is providing customers with a flattering, stylish alternative to boring work clothes. In more tangible terms, it is a well-constructed garment. I knew I could handle much of the business side, but I had never designed or constructed clothing. Thus, I needed someone who could design and manage production of our line.

I believe very strongly in not outsourcing your core.  You have to own this and incentivize the right stakeholders to contribute their skills and connections to make this happen.  If I were starting a mobile app, I would have sought a developer co-founder, a restaurant, a chef, and so on.  In my opinion, having someone who can build your product as a co-founder versus paying someone as a contractor makes a huge difference in delivering a high-quality, consistent product to your customers.

How?

So you want to find a co-founder with a totally different skill set?  Great, your business will be all the better for it.  But your network is inevitably similar to you, right?  That’s the challenge I faced in finding a Tailour partner. Here are the steps I recommend:

  1. Figure out your search criteria: For me, this was someone with design and production experience in Los Angeles. Limiting the search geographically and by experience will help you in comparing options.
  2. Develop a list of target companies:  Look for companies in a specific geographic area that might have employees who fit your criteria.
  3. Start with your network: Though your immediate connections might be similar to you, they might know someone who could help you. Provide a specific role description that anyone can forward.
  4. Use LinkedIn: Once you have your search criteria, begin to develop a list of possible contacts and send messages through LinkedIn.  Trust me, even one month of LinkedIn’s premium service will be very useful for this search.
  5. Go on “blind dates:” You found your significant other through dating, right?  Do the same with potential co-founders.  Grab a coffee, chat about the concept and gauge their interest level. It’s a cheap way to assess people beyond their resumes.

I got lucky with my co-founder, but it wasn’t just by chance.  Finding a co-founder needs to be a thoughtful process in which you assess where you see the business going and what you personally want to get out of it. 

Women 2.0 readers: What experiences have you had with finding a co-founder?

About the guest blogger: Chrissie Gorman is the co-founder of Tailour, an ecommerce line of versatile, flattering work apparel that takes professional women from the office to after-work drinks.  She developed the concept while getting her MBA at Harvard Business School.  She has also worked in management consulting and in entertainment at MTV Networks and Creative Artists Agency.  Follow her on Twitter at @c_gorm