On a few different occasions, I have told people that one of the many reasons that I started SocialMatchbox was because I wanted to meet like minded people. On different days this meant different things to me. Some days it meant meeting others here in the Washington, DC area startup community and other times it meant meeting potential collaborators. Today, I would like like to talk about some of the experiences that I have had in looking for a co-founder. Having started four startups myself, three with co-founders, I know something of this subject.
I would like to start off by saying that I have met a lot of people who found co-founders through the SocialMatchbox events that took place between 2007 and 2012. I am always excited to hear these stories and hope that if you haven’t shared yours that you will do so. The bad news for the rest of you is that in my experience, most co-founder situations that lead to success started long before the startup.
Here are a few examples from the SocialMatchbox community:
Webs.com (formerly Freewebs.com). The founding team consisted of three brothers: Haroon Mokhtarzada, Zeki Mokhtarzada and Idris Moktarzada. They had some pretty good success, selling for $100 Million to VistaPrint.com in 2012. The team raised a series A, but they had a lot of good things going before doing so.
TapMetrics. The founding team consisted of two brothers: Chris Brown and Nolan Brown. You may recall that the team presented at SocialMatchbox when we hosted the event at the E Street Cinema Location. The brothers sold their company to Millennial Media in 2010.
Living Social. The founding team consisted of Tim O’Shaughnessy, Aaron Batalion, Eddie Frederick, and Val Aleksenko. The group worked together full time at Revolution Health Group and started working on projects including Visual Bookshelf while they were still at Revolution Health and they were also active in the Ruby on Rails community here in Washington, DC.
Countless other teams started out as a project among peers or friends that go back to highschool or college.
One of the most frequent pre-founding chemistry events that I have noticed is project related. It doesn’t matter if the project is a startup weekend type of event, a work project, a school project, or even a freelance project where a couple of people collaborate. What does matter is that you get some experience working on a project with someone that involves a significant number of hours. How many hours isn’t something that I have the hard data to pin down, but what I can say is that it should be enough hours to allow people to let their guard down. When people get into their groove they start to act like they will under normal conditions. Bonus points for stressful conditions like a tight project deadline or a hackathon.
I have heard a lot of people compare the unique circumstances of founders meeting and discovering that they have the chemistry to work together to dating. There are co-founder dating events, and plenty of networking events. The Washington Post called some of our early SocialMatchbox events “Geek Meet-Markets” because we used color coded name badges for helping people figure out who they were and what they were looking for.
Despite their best attempts, these services have just not cut it in my experience. Don’t get me wrong, but I haven’t heard of any success stories yet. At one point, out of sheer curiosity, I signed up for Co-Founders Lab account. They are one of these co-founder matchmaking services. I had low expectations, but nothing could have prepared me for the zero response that came back. I sent something like 5 or 10 messages, but not even a thanks but I’ll pass came back. This really surprised me because the people I emailed were all “active”. These guys have chummed nearly every incubator that I have visited lately so this really struck me by surprise. Maybe the service isn’t ready for prime time. Or maybe the service just lacks a network validation which is what LinkedIn and Facebook have going for them. My theory is that people simply signed up, then gave up just like I did.
So what is a founder to do if they don’t have a co-founder and they have a great startup? Here are some suggestions:
A VC that I had lunch with earlier today suggested hiring a consultant. Having met a lot of consultants out there, this option makes my skin crawl. I say this with a straight face as someone who has been in the consulting space for many years. Most consultants are just not out there for you, they are out there for the check. But that isn’t even the biggest problem with consultants. The biggest problem is fit. For example: you need someone to be your online marketing consultant, but the one you are talking to is really a public relations and marketing communications expert. Sure they could do online marketing, but Twitter spam isn’t the same as a targeted ad spend paired with decent A/B testing and metrics (think Startup Metrics for Pirates). I would argue that the abundance of the wrong kind of people does not make it ok to use them, despite their numbers and persuasiveness over beers at a DC Tech Meetup. I should point out that consultants can be awesome under the right circumstances. You almost have to look at a consultant the same way as a co-founder because they are going to be building some of the foundation that you will be working from as you go forward.
Now you could do nothing, but that isn’t the right option either. This is where your network comes into play. So I guess the takeaway here is that you should build up your network around what you are going to be looking for before you go out looking for your co-founder. There isn’t a magic option that will make your hunt for a co-founder go away.
Another suggestion that has worked for me more than once is blogging. I can’t say that I’m be the best blogger, but I have received a ton of interest from people because of my blogging activities. So, if you are interested in a subject area then it might be a really good idea for you to start writing about your pursuit of it. This will add some basis for people to take you seriously when you say that you are going to disrupt Social Media, or whatever it is that you plan to do.
That is it for today, but if you have thoughts, suggestions, experiences to share, or questions please do not hesitate to post them here.