How to make someone work for free

Hands-on approach to hunting a co-founder

How do I persuade someone to work for free? — this question is definitely among Top 10 asked by the first time founders. Ok honestly, even experienced guys and gals struggle with attracting the first ones in the founding team of a new project. If your last name is not Musk (with the first one preferably be Elon). And you still don’t have a co-founder, that’s probably something that bothers you as well. In one of our previous post, we listed the ways one can follow to find a co-founder. Now, let’s say you have someone in your sights. But is it Ok to approach a person head on and say “hey, do you want to start a business with me”?

Hunting with a reason

Finding a co-founder is not very much unlike looking for a marriage partner. There are no “wrong” and “right” strategies. In other words, it all pretty much depends on your personality and what you’re in particular comfortable with. If you believe that looking for the true and only love within Tinder is a workable tactics, — go for it. we don’t mean, look for a co-founder using Tinder (though, why not?). However, if you’re a person who gets along easily with strangers. If you establish relations without overthinking. And, most importantly, you don’t feel heartbroken every time it doesn’t work out — you’ll probably be comfortable with such platforms as CoFounderLab, Meetup, Founder2be etc. You can check out the full list of platforms here. They function just like Tinder does. You have a profile, and you’re approached or approach yourself different persons who might become or not your co-founder.

The good thing about this platforms is that everyone is in the same boat here and knows what to expect. That is to say, while the “seducing rules” are defined, you can without hesitation express what you’re looking for in your co-founder, what’s your expectations are and what you’re eager to offer in exchange.

Strong sales proposition

Therefore, having a strong sales proposition of your product here is a must. People here pay attention above all, on products, not persons. It makes sense. It’s absurd to try to choose between total strangers, as a result, you tend to choose between the products. Products have at least quantitative and qualitative measures to them. The proposition with the fastest and highest ROI wins.

That’s why, we suggest to highlight in you offers within “Tinder-like” platforms for founders the following aspects:

  1. Time-money value — what time commitment do you expect, what potential profits your co-founder will get and when.
  2. Risk scores — what you co-founder has to loose, if it doesn’t work out and your evaluation of your chances of success (well, you obviously strongly believe you’ll conquer the Universe with your product, but try to be more specific, — like, “I’ve ran 2 businesses so far and they have reached breakeven point in 12 months”, or “I’ve been the most lucky student in the college history: I’ve never learned anything but my scores have been sky”).
  3. Clear explanation of your choosing the partner process — you might think, it’s too early to talk about it on this stage, but most people appreciate if they know what to expect and don’t lose their time on chasing phantoms. For instance, you know for sure that you’d choose a Yale alumni over everyone else, — than just say it. Being honest from the get go usually pays off.

Hunting as seduction

However, not all founder feel comfortable with Tinder-like platforms. Some of us are still old -fashioned and value warm introductions over everything else. Others just believe in power of emotional connection and can’t imagine building a business with a total stranger or someone they “don’t feel” to be a right person.
I can’t say it’s a better or worse approach, I only want to point out that this attitude definitely turns hunting a co-founder process from pure science, where one can calculate and evaluate, into a form of art. And as with everything art-related you can count on being a success in two cases: if you’re extremely talented or you’re well connected and know someone who’s opinion is valuable in specific community.

Useful tips

I’m not in a position to discuss here the “connection geniuses” as it’s something you’re smart enough to use without me prompting you. But if you have to approach co-founder hunting as a form of art, think of tools, methods and small tricks you’d use while trying to seduce a love partner.

  1. Establish emotional connection by saying or doing something valuable to the person you’re after. Positive comments on new website or projects completed usually works well. If communication environment you’re hunting your co-founder in, presumes active discussions (like, Product Hunt), join the person’s followers and offer insightful comments on every discussion she or he takes part it.

2. Make your homework and research a person you’re going to propose (huh, a partnership). Learn what does she like and dislike, what’s her strong sides, hobbies, work attitude. No stalking! Just genuine and honest interest to understand better your perspective business partner;

3. Try to find mutual friends in LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook and ask their opinion on the person of interest. Ask them to introduce you and make a first contact. Just chat a bit without getting down to business;

4. After a week or two of communication it makes sense to make an offer. In your business proposal accentuate aspects of your project that’ll definitely appeal to your perspective partner based on your deep understanding of this person.

Unexpected outcome

If your research has been a proper and thorough one, it’ll pay out and you’ll have yourself a perfect business partner. There’s also a big chance that you’ll decide against this match and start looking for someone else or switch to less emotional and more pragmatic approach. Anyway, the basic advice is to start from analyzing your own personality, your expectations and what you’re comfortable with. Can you build a strong business relations without initial emotional connection (who knows, it might come eventually)? Or do you belong to those who believe that co-founding is like love on the first sight — you either have it, or you’re out of the game?

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