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Some years ago I had a staff member.

They were absolutely brilliant, incredibly kind, patient, and empathetic. Hardworking, self-directed, lots of initiative, etc.

They would have been an executive at a fortune-50 company had they not failed a background check.

I gave them a temporary position unrelated to their actual field of expertise while they looked for a permanent “real job.”

What I could pay for the work I needed done with tiny compared to what they could make as an executive; my tiny company didn’t need their expert, expert skills.

They were the best in the world and despite this, getting no job offers.  They started a niche side business that to me looked like it should have been insanely profitable. Apparently, it wasn’t.

Stuff (with high resale value) started going missing. Then irregularities with the petty cash. Don’t know if they were responsible. Presumably will never know.

This is the type of problem that we often think about. I’ve hit some version of it three times. Been cheated in other ways five times. For a total of eight. Eight that I know about it anyway.

But, when I think about trust, it isn’t things like this that I think about. I don’t think about honesty (or the lack thereof), I think about reliability (and very much the lack thereof).

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I think about the help I can’t hire because a single act of carelessness or bad judgment can cost me more time than they would save me in a year. I think about where and whether that risk can be suitably controlled.

But most of all I think how fortunate I am to have people in my world who I don’t worry about. People whose judgment I trust and who really never let things fall through the cracks. Those are the people I want on my staff, on my team, in my life; those are the people to have as partners and as cofounders.

To me, this is the first and foremost thing to think about when looking for a cofounder. I’ve spoken to hundreds of people looking for cofounders. In all the years, I’ve never heard anyone mention it.

Written by Russell Brand

Entrepreneur in residence at Founder Institute, he has mentored, performed due diligence on and invested in numerous early stage companies. Hundreds of these early stage companies have described Russell’s insights and advice as the most useful thing in the history of their companies. He has always had an inborn ability to find more valuable uses of new ideas and faster ways to achieve results.

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