What personality traits are the least compatible for cofounding partners?
Finding the a great cofounder is daunting; after all, there is a lot on the line. Especially considering that cofounder disagreements account for 65% of company dissolutions in the early stages, according to Noam Wasserman, author of The Founder’s Dilemma. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from potential business-ruining conflict is to learn what to avoid in a cofounder partnership, as well as being intentional about its management and upkeep.
The Cofounder’s Hub has prepared a list of potentially problematic personality match-ups that will serve as early red flags. Use these tools to avoid partnering with someone incompatible, or if you’re still willing to sign the partnership agreement, as a warning that things might get difficult down the line. There are steps you can take to mitigate potential issues, and we’ve outlined some in this post.
The Cofounder’s Hub approaches personality through the lens of the Personality Project and SAPA project, which measures your personality on 27 different traits. We highly recommend taking the test, as the results will be key to understanding this blog post, along with all the other personality-related content The Cofounder’s Hub has to offer.
Bad Match-up #1 - Low Conformity and High Conformity
Usually, there is a benefit for pairing people that are on opposite sides of a trait spectrum. Someone high in adaptability will serve as a valuable asset to someone on the lower end, for example. The same can be said for Charisma, Sociability, and more. However, when pairing someone with a high score in Conformity with a partner that has a low score in Conformity, the match up will pose significant foundational problems. Entrepreneurship can take a couple of different shapes: you can either build a business that is tried-and-true, with little room for innovation and creativity, or you attempt a business that is pioneering, disruptive and challenging.
If you’re aiming for the latter, you will need someone who is comfortable with non-conformity, and going against the grain sometimes. For the highly conformist individual, standing out because of different choices and ideas can be very uncomfortable.
Even if your business idea isn’t particularly revolutionary, generating ideas and problem-solving might become frustrating if one partner is highly conforming while the other is not. The ideas of the conforming partner will appear boring and overdone to the non-conformist, while the ideas of the latter will appear ridiculous or risky to the former.
There is always the chance that your differences in personality will be complementary instead of divisive, however, so if you have a good feeling about this potential cofounder, or already have a dynamic rapport with them, don’t let this dissuade you. The saying “opposites attract” exists for a reason!
Bad Match-Up #2 - High Perfectionism/High Order and Low Industry/High Easygoingness
Perfectionism and Order scores are often seen in the same individual. If you are one of those people, you should consider staying away from someone with a low score in Industry and high Easygoingness. It’s not that you couldn’t work together, or be friends, but the working relationship between founders can become very unbalanced if one partner is more motivated than the other.
Perhaps this does not happen at first, but once the adrenaline of starting a new business wears off, the low Industry partner might not have the same motivation for completing tasks or managing the business as the high Perfectionism/Order partner. This will lead to a relationship riddled with nagging and resentment.
If you’re already in a partnership with these two traits, or you are thinking of going through with it despite the red flags, not all is lost. Be sure to implement workload processes, task and time managing measures, as well as accountability managers in your team dynamic so one partner does not fall behind. Another option is to have the equity split reflect how much work is being done by each founder; that allows for each partner to work in a way that is natural and comfortable for them, while being remunerated/compensated fairly.
Bad Match-up #3 - Low Emotional Stability/High Anxiety and High Irritability/Low Emotional Expressiveness
Healthy, direct and frequent communication is a must for a successful business partnership, and unfortunately, the match-up above could make it difficult for both parties. Highly anxious people and people with low Emotional Stability tend to find it harder to deal with angry outbursts, rude or dry remarks, and will often confuse neutral faces for negative ones. This makes being partnered with a high Irritability partner dangerous, as they will be more prone to being bad tempered. Low Emotional Expressiveness can make someone less likely to smile, demonstrate joy or gratitude, which might also make their partner even more anxious.
Unless both parties demonstrate incredible self-awareness, have great communication skills and are able to work on their relationship together, the partnership will present difficulties. The anxious partner may start to avoid the irritable partner altogether, and the leadership of the company might become skewed to favor the irritable partner. Beware!
Bad match-up #4 - High Sensation-Seeking/High Impulsivity/Low Self Control and High Order/High Perfectionism/High Authoritarianism
This match-up could prove detrimental in decision-making and leadership style. The high Sensation-Seeking/High Impulsivity/Low Self-Control partner might be more inclined to take risks, make big moves, and gamble with decisions, while the High Order/High Perfectionism/High Authoritarianism partner might be more likely to play it safe, play by the rules, and keep their head down. If communication is particularly stunted between partners, this could mean that the Impulsive partner makes decisions without consulting the other cofounder, or chooses to not inform them of risks due to fear of getting a negative reaction or a veto.
However, if the partners are able to communicate effectively and put protective measures in place without harboring resentment for each other (such as requiring double signatures for cheques), the match-up can be beneficial. With both points of view driving the company, you will be more prepared for any kind of outcome.
Bad match-up #5 - High Trust/High Compassion/High Easygoingness and Low Honesty/High Impulsivity/Low Authoritarianism
This might be one of the most dangerous match-ups for cofounders. A low score in Honesty and a low score in Authoritarianism will mean that one of the partners is ready to fib, lie or even commit fraud for personal gain. This in itself is already dangerous and should be considered a red flag for any potential cofounder. However, when paired with a highly compassionate, highly trusting and easygoing individual, the recipe leads to disaster. The trusting partner will overlook red flags, while their compassion will excuse their behavior and their easygoingness will convince them it’s not a big deal. This match-up has the potential to snowball into a catastrophe of epic proportions.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are partnered with someone who scored low in Honesty and low in Authoritarianism and you don’t want to leave, make sure you are aware that bending the rules might be in the cards. If you want to avoid this, use your partnership agreement to protect yourself: consult a lawyer, pronto!
Bad Match-up #6 - High Charisma/High Humour/High Attention-Seeking and Low Emotional Expressiveness/High Irritability
This match-up isn’t as bad for the partnership inasmuch as it creates a divide in the company. Imagine you have two bosses, one is the life of the party, and the other is sullen and irritable.This will lead to a very common trope in detective movies: the Good Cop/Bad Cop. One of the founders will be the people’s boss, while the other will be feared. This divide is detrimental to both the company culture, and also the partnership’s longevity, as negative feelings are bound to start creeping in. It will also cause issues if there is a dissolution, as employee loyalty will be unfairly skewed.
Although this match-up isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker for most, it does come with a word of warning. If you decide to go through with the partnership anyway, make sure that the charismatic cofounder is on board with maintaining healthy boundaries with the employees and not crossing any lines: it’s much harder to be a boss to an employee when they’re also a friend. They can’t expect the other partner to fulfill the boss role all of the time, as that will create an unbalanced dynamic and affect the leadership roles of the founding team.
Identifying and addressing potential personality conflicts is vital for cofounder partnerships’ success. The Cofounder’s Hub highlights red flags, emphasizing the impact of traits like conformity, perfectionism, emotional stability, honesty, and charisma and how they interact with one another. Proactive communication and protective measures are essential to mitigate conflicts arising from divergent decision-making styles and leadership approaches. Entrepreneurs must navigate these challenges to build enduring, successful collaborations, fostering a healthy and balanced working relationship.