It’s not conventional but it always works. Unlike other popular options.
Co-founding is like a marriage. It can be your safe haven, or a nightmare comes true. It may empower you and make you stronger. Or it may suck out all your juices and destroy self-esteem. Moreover, according to well-known statistics 89% of startups on late stages fail because of the issues in founding team. Every single course you’ll go through as a founder, would scream “choose your partners wisely”, “hire a professional to write down to founders agreement”, “make a thorough background check”, etc. Mentors suggest to look for a co-founder among your friends, school mates or someone you’ve attended college with. It’s supposed to protect you from “highwaymen” or people with completely different background. Thus, offering a failsafe for future arguments.
Friends and family is not the best option?
In practice, however, it never works like this. Or, to better put it: it works like this for those who don’t actively look for co-founders. If you’re an MIT sophomore, have tons of friends, and at one of the parties someone comes up with a startup idea, and you all jump in. Then, well, yes, it’s an example of finding someone within your inner circle. But over 70% of founders who start business can’t reach out to their friends because, — and here is a trick — we tend to befriend people like us. People who are interested in the same things that we are. People who like attending the same events, enjoy reading same books. And most probably have the same (or lookalike) skills set as we do.
Similar background trap
In common language, it means marketers tend to have friends in marketing (perhaps, some prom PR, media and sales) but not from IT department. IT guys and gals mix with other IT guys and gals, and don’t have too many contact in business development. The only exception are journalists and, perhaps politicians who know, or pretend to know, everyone but this fact is not enough to boost their entrepreneurial skills. Besides, founders from similar background sounds like a potential disaster in future: the lack of diversity in founding team and ability to look on the same problem from different angles might very well prevent you from moving your startup somewhere over ideation and prototype stage. And, the last but not the least, if you fail the business with your friend there’s a good chance you’ll lose a friend, too.
Matching platforms don’t really match?
So, what do practically founders can and usually do to find someone to run business with? They reach out to founders matching platforms that are pretty numerous these days. Let’s see, what are those about and what their upsides and downsides are.
CoFounderslab — undeniably the largest and most elaborate platform to find a co-founder. They offer founders search (you can choose what skills do you need and brows options), mentoring, some education. Many online and offline events. Personal profile creation and other useful features. They even have a free plan, though it offers almost nothing, aside from you being included in their mailing list. So, if you really want to get access to other founders base you’ll have to go for a paid subscription (premium plan) that starts with $15/month (if you buy the plan for 1 year, billed annually).
The really useful part of the platform is the fact that it is the biggest player in the market. There are founders from all over the world and the number of the userbase exceeds 50,000. However, as with almost all US-based solutions, it’s extremely US-focused. Most of founders there are from the US or looking for someone in the US. Also CoFoundreLab offers no follow-up. If you find a match, you have to figure out what to do next by our own. If you fail, they have nothing to offer.
In contrast, FoundersNation, is a much smaller platform. But at least they are totally free and offer free legal support and consultancy if you want to draw co-founders agreement with a person you’ve found through their service. I, personally, like the UX design of the FoundersNation more, than the industry leader’s. You can browse through founders database here, make your profile and post an announcement, what exactly you’re looking for. There are 2 options: 1) I’m looking for a co-founder because I have an idea. or 2) I’m looking for a co-founder, because I have skills.
I can’t say that matching platforms are inefficient: I’m sure, there’re plenty of founders out there who’ve managed to find a partner due to one of the above mentioned websites (though, I don’t know any personally). But the problem with these platforms are opposite to those with friends and family: there’s no background check, everyone can create an account or post a fake CV. I’ve heard stories when people started receiving spam scam offerings as soon as they created an account on one of the platforms. In an attempt to protect themselves people tend to choose partners from the same location (which somehow levels to zero online global connection of the platforms). Still, it’s pretty reasonable and if you can meet your potential partner, talk to her, discuss some basic values and attitudes, — than, probably matching platforms can be a good choice.
Work testing environment
Now we’ve finally approaching the part where I’ll tell you about the approach I personally take and the one we use on Entrytoo to teach founders how to find a co-founder. I believe that no background checks and/or personal connections will yield results as good as real work testing experience. When you’re teamed with someone and you have an assignment to complete in a very short period of time, — it’s the best way to see, who is who. Does your teammate think like you? Does this person have the same working ethics? How does she react to stressful situations? Is he able to deliver as fast as you? How do you feel emotionally working together? Do you want to continue interaction? All this questions should be definitely asked and answered before you choose a co-founder. It’s much more valuable than regular job interview where a person can tell you all the lies he wants or, quite the opposite won’t be able to mutter a word being shy and confused. If a person failed a job interview, it actually tell us nothing about this person’s professional skills. It only tells us that this person is not very good at being interviewed.
Try to create a testing environment by teaming up with different candidates to complete randomly chosen assignment within a limited time period. For instance, within 76 hours. It’s not impossible to accomplish, but the team members should work hand in hand to deliver the results. Don’t judge the outcome, however. Look for hidden clues: like, does a person eager to work without pushing? Is she proactive? How creative his ides are? Do you feel comfortable working with this specific person?
With this in mind, we suggest to use all possible tools to find a co-founder and a match made in heaven. Inner circle, matching platforms, special meetings (posted on Meetup where you can join like-minded people and find new friends offline and online), as well as freelancers websites (like Upwork or Fiverr). I always suggest to think what type of job they need to be done by a co-founder (obviously, we’re looking for someone not just for fun but for some specific job to be done and we know that we’re not qualified for this specific activities), think of several micro-tasks aligned with this job description and find 5–6 freelancers to complete these tasks. If you like the result — reach out for the person and offer equity. The same approach can be used with matching platforms. However, keep in mind that you’ve got to test not only person’s qualification but also “the match” — how do you work together as a team. That’s why it’s important to think of an assignment that will demand your mutual attention and contribution.
And what if a person I like doesn’t agree to become a co-founder? Well, this definitely happens quite often, — just like you’ve probably been rejected once or twice by a person you’re in love. How to win your perspective co-founder’s heart? It’ll be a topic for our next story.