I seem to be getting this question a lot from companies that are just forming or looking to expand. Where can I find a Cofounder? To be honest, there’s no real science to it.
Have you ever lost your keys? It’s next to impossible to find where they are in the exact moment. That sucks.
The common fix to this challenge is you have a specific place you put your keys…whether it’s the foyer, or a hook, or a drawer. You know exactly where to go when you’re looking for your keys.
It’s the same way with finding a cofounder. By the time you’re looking for one it’s too late. One of the key functions of founders/ executives in the making is to always know good people. It’s important to have a solid network of colleagues and acquaintances. Apply the same rigor you would to attracting customers and investors to hiring/ building a founding team. Here are some things I’d recommend just shooting off the hip.
Network. You need to meet smart and intelligent people on a weekly basis that challenge common perceptions, from different fields, and walks of life. It almost needs to be second nature to be attracted to these type of people. I remember one time I went to an interview for a position and I didn’t get it, but I had the opportunity to speak with the company’s founder and his insights were career changing. The chance to speak with truly intelligent and driven people is underrated. Savor those moments because it will come in handy like when you need a co-founder. You can reach out to those same people to help begin your search.
Know your strengths, blindsides, and what skills and experience will enhance your company. You’ll often hear solo founders say, I need someone who can sell, or market, or a tech guy or gal. While that’s a good start, think about where that function should sit in your organizational chart and how it advances your goals. If the skill that’s missing is essential to your unique value proposition, I’d say the person should sit at a founder level. If not, it’s a good move to bring them on in a non-founder role.
Talk to people who are in the same position you’re looking to fill. If you’re looking for a CTO type founder, talk to CTOs in established and up and coming companies. Conversations with people who are in the trenches help you identify common traits that make a good CTO. They are themes. Sometimes, you can see these same themes in people that may not traditionally be on the path to CTO/cofounder status. Same rule can apply to other positions in a company.
Have leverage. If you don’t come from a position of strength and opportunity, it will be challenging to convince someone to leave the comfort of their squishy job or commitment to join your early stage adventure. As a founder, you have to be convincing and show the unique product, market opportunity, and upside in a way that is exciting to potential candidate.
Date. If you’ve filled your funnel of potential co-founders, start dating! I mean… try a one off project together that is super challenging. Get a chance to see how you collaborate in stressful situations. It also gives you more data to evaluate candidates.
(There’s definitely more. It’s time for my Sunday nap. I’ll add more as I think about them. I would also encourage you to add some in the comments.)
Adding a co-founder in the early stage of a company is a major milestone for any team. I believe it’s the beginning of a string of major decisions that set the foundation for what a company will grow to be. Be sure you’ve done you’re due diligence and you feel comfortable about growing and building with the person you select.
A fellow had just been hired as the new CEO of a large high tech corporation. The CEO who was stepping down met with him privately and presented him with three numbered envelopes. “Open these if you run up against a problem you don’t think you can solve,” he said.
Well, things went along pretty smoothly, but six months later, sales took a downturn and he was really catching a lot of heat. About at his wit’s end, he remembered the envelopes. He went to his drawer and took out the first envelope. The message read, “Blame your predecessor.”
The new CEO called a press conference and tactfully laid the blame at the feet of the previous CEO. Satisfied with his comments, the press — and Wall Street – responded positively, sales began to pick up and the problem was soon behind him.
About a year later, the company was again experiencing a slight dip in sales, combined with serious product problems. Having learned from his previous experience, the CEO quickly opened the second envelope. The message read, “Reorganize.” This he did, and the company quickly rebounded.
After several consecutive profitable quarters, the company once again fell on difficult times. The CEO went to his office, closed the door and opened the third envelope.
The message said, “Prepare three envelopes.”
– In the process of looking for the author to give credit. I heard it as a story during a network event.
2 years ago, when tiphub was started, our core team had a couple of initial assumptions that came to be true.
Bootstrapping is important, however majority of disruptive technologies need early capital.
Venture capital is broken. With failure rates that would not be accepted in any other industry, most vc’s continue business as usual. The best ones have found ways to de-risk their investments by leveraging marketing strategies but its not a sustainable model for all vcs in a given ecosystem.
The decision making process for investment selections was purposefully arbitrary. It allows gate keepers to claim a higher power than a regular person at picking companies that have the best chance of success.
Lack of diversity in decision making leads to unequal representation and missed opportunities.
Now, to throw a wrench in it all, bring in the African perspective. Not enough vc activity, not enough opportunities to invest in, not enough capital, etc etc.
The major issue with the private market is that its supposed or destined to be the engine of growth for developed and developing countries alike. However, we don’t have the correct scale-able processes, or institutions in place to really push the needle of investment at scale. The two major problems are;
How do you assess risk in a way that is accurate?
How do you match risk, interest, and expertise to ensure optimal outcomes?
So early on in the inception of tiphub, the idea and the hope was that we would create a platform that would exactly what is missing in the vc community. A platform that could learn, overtime, the best investments for an investor based on different inputs. We called this project tracker.
2 years later, on the anniversary of tiphub, I can say we’ve gotten to the second phase of the tracker which is a platform that will bring together experts, investors, and startups to learn from interactions, and we’ll move on to phase three, where things will start to get really interesting.
Stay tuned as we build what we hope will be a game changing platform that will improve outcomes for all entrepreneurs and investors.
As someone that’s been in the start-up space for a while, I understand the allure of technology start-ups and why there seems to be so much hype around building a “unicorn” (That reminds me… Can we leave the term “unicorn” in 2015?) and becoming the next Steve Jobs or Marky Mark.
It’s sexy. The thought of tech start-ups is sexy. The thought of bootstrapping and building the next Twitter sounds alluring. However, the problem with sexy is its based on rather superficial criteria, always empty at its core, and is somewhat fleeting. If there is one thing that’s true above all, it is that sexy is in a constant state of change.
Things deemed to be sexy sneak in to conversations as silver bullets to solve major problems. (Getting more people to build apps will solve economic inequality, for example) This is far from the case. Sexy attempts to simplify rather complex issues so it’s digestible and palatable.
This is especially enlightening to me as I travel to places like Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, and Kenya. There’s so much hype around sexy start-ups. I understand the low barrier to entry. It takes less money and less specialized skill to begin a sexy start-up. I see the why. But I also see the bigger opportunity.
The bigger opportunity, to me, is in disrupting already established industries with new business models enabled by new technology and innovative thinking. For example, Hello Tractor , one of my favorite start-ups of all time, leverages technology and an on demand based business model to provide tractors to small and medium sized farmers in Nigeria. Agriculture isn’t as sexy as a web based company or a cool app, but I would argue industries like agriculture are the foundation for any thriving market.
I’m looking for more companies, especially from developing markets, that attack these already existing industries. Particularly, waste management, transportation, agriculture, and real estate.