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Do You Need A Co-Founder? You Better Believe It.

How to find a business partner that is both a pillow and a mirror.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Over the past year, there were many challenging situations that I faced as a founder and CEO of a regulated California cannabis business that tested my leadership and endurance. There were also life’s wrenches that snuck up to give me a reality check when I least expected it.  It felt like Mercury was in retrograde the entire year.  

nikom khotjan | Getty Images

Running a startup means you’re always in a growth phase, which equates to a situation that can be both bad and good. (So long as you’re growing, right?) Last year’s challenges included shifting team dynamics and replacing critical team members. Cash flow that had to be very closely managed as we experienced high growth and demand in the market, which involved getting product to the shelves, only to be paid later than the net 30 terms.  We handled complex investor situations as the fundraising landscape changed drastically in the latter part of 2019.

Those were just a few bumps.

Then, just as everyone who runs a company knows, there are unpredictable personal challenges. My normal day includes being a mom to a tornado toddler and doting husband, who requires all my attention when I’m not working on my business. This year, everyone in my house had a heavily rotating case of bad colds, pink eye, and ear infections. My nanny was hospitalized unexpectedly and out of work for three months challenging the juggling skills. And then there was the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, which literally burst onto the scene within miles from my house.  

Overnight, our house became a refuge to many, including our best friends’ family whose property was lost within hours of the fires breaking out, and shortly thereafter we all had to evacuate somewhere else when the fire came within 300 yards of my home.  

Here’s where the greatest realization of the year hit me. Where did we go, with extra kids and pets in tow?  My co-founder Karli’s house. She has been my rock through all the challenges that were presented this past year, both professional and personal.  To have partnered with someone I can turn to when push comes to any sort of shove, I’m eternally grateful. 

Find yourself a pillow and a mirror

I believe passionately that every founder needs a co-founder. Someone who will know all the details of the business—good bad and ugly, and can be there to support you endlessly in whatever capacity is needed. Melissa Bradley from 1863 Ventures said: “Every founder needs a mirror and a pillow.”  A “mirror” is the person who will tell you the truth, even when it hurts. The “pillow “is the person who cushions the blows and makes you feel better when things don’t go your way. 

A strong co-founder is exactly this. My co-founder is my mirror to have honest, difficult conversations and level-setting “reality checks” when they are needed most. She is also my pillow to commiserate on all the challenges in our business and my home life. Over the difficult year, she physically handed me a pillow upon which to rest when fire threatened our house, and more so became a safe refuge, both literally and figuratively.

She is my backstop, who I know has my back at any turn.  I have had to make difficult decisions choosing between family and work, and know that she supports these decisions, as do I for her.  She can also pinch-hit on a moment's notice, in whatever type of meeting I throw her into. 

As challenging as 2019 was for our industry, business, and my family, I’m so energized and optimistic for 2020 and all that is throws at both of us.  I have the best partner possible in my co-founder to work with to capture our opportunities and realize our true potential as a regulated cannabis business in California and female leaders.

Here are some tips for how to choose a co-founder you’re bound to be grateful for:

Map out your core values   

It is critical for co-founders to be aligned in their core values because they will definitely be tested to the extreme.  By mapping out your core values, you can be sure to have them as a guiding light to share with your co-founder. Make sure you share the same work ethic, similar priorities in life and goals for oneself. It’s OK if not everything is the same, but make sure you understand each other, so can understand and support decisions that align to one’s core values. Is it family first? Is your interest a part-time gig to have some fun?  Is it making the most amount of money possible no matter what it takes? Get clear so when the going gets tough, you know where you each stand.

Understand yours and your co-founders' strengths and weaknesses

Self-awareness is core to understanding what skills you are looking for in any potential partner.  Ideally, co-founders compliment each other's strengths and weaknesses. In order to understand what skills you’re looking for, spend the time understanding yourself.  When looking at building a business, it’s much more powerful to be able to block and tackle different parts of the business, with trust in each other. For example, if you’re looking to build a product company like I did, having two graphic designers or two operations specialists are less valuable than having one of each.  By having a wide range of skills on your founding team, you can build a scrappy business and spend less on consultants and services in the early days of your company.

Network with everyone and share your vision

You never know where you may find your co-founder. Network at industry events, with friends, and colleagues.  Share your vision for what you’re wanting to build and passionate about. If no one knows what you’re working on, there is no way they can know who may be a great partner for you!  When looking for a co-founder for a cannabis company, I suggest networking in complementary industries like the wine industry or CPG companies.  

As 2020 begins, I can say with certainty that, despite the bumps and bruises that come with running a growing business and the realities of everyday life, I am so grateful for choosing the right partner on the journey.

I wish you the same.