Last week I woke up to an unexpected email with the subject “Cofounders?” My initial reaction classified it as a random “hey, join my company” – since publishing my address within my Google resignation note I’d received an eclectic set of messages (apparently, I’m big in India). But then I caught the sender’s name. Whoa, him? He’s a very smart guy – an engineer himself. One successful startup under his belt. Some angel investments including seed money into one of the “billion dollar company” club members. Let’s call him “Founder X.”
Quickly opened the email. No, he wasn’t asking me to start something with him but rather for help finding a cofounder for his new venture. Here’s the text:
Hi Hunter, we’ve met at [redacted] over the last couple of years. I’ve always found your discussion comments to be insightful. : )
I’m writing because I’m getting back into the game with another startup, and looking for a cofounder.
Do you know any technically deep people who want to start a company? [Note: Founder X is also an engineer]
Wow, that’s pretty cool but at the same time strange. This guy – close to a superstar in my book (I just don’t know him well enough to fully anoint) – was asking me somewhat randomly to help him find a founder? Didn’t he know everyone already? Was there something less-than-amicable about the separation from his last company? Had he exhausted his circle of friends? Was I being Catfished?
Somewhat confused, I requested more details but also fired a note off to Jessica Alter, CEO of FounderDating, an online network connecting entrepreneurs to start new projects and companies. Wanted to know in her experience (a) how often do people with broad personal networks reach beyond their circles to ID a cofounder and (b) isn’t it really only first time founders or non-technical founders who have this problem?
Do you mean do accomplished entrepreneurs with strong networks need help finding cofounders? If so, the answer is an unequivocal yes! Roughly, I’d say 30-40% of our members are repeat entrepreneurs. Many of your friends ;). We’re invite-only so the majority of people have networks. For example, almost every EIR in the Valley, early employees and founders from places like Stackmob, Gilt, Zynga and Google alumni is probably our biggest single feeder.
Finding someone who has complimentary skill sets while having alignment on the type of company you want to build (culture, etc.), the general (product) area of focus, the vision and the timing is really, really difficult. It’s not as simple as having a network, obviously that helps but so many things have to line up and have chemistry. And to be honest, often people who already know each other ignore some of the warning signs because they know each other and they believe that makes up for it.
Probably second biggest misconception is that finding cofounder is only an issue for first time entrepreneurs or people that aren’t connected. Just not at all the case.
Interesting – while I believe the strongest cofounding relationships result from people who’ve worked together before, I can see why there’s room for bringing together likeminded folks.
So back to Founder X, here’s what he’s willing to share publicly right now (there’s obviously more that he will discuss person-to-person — I’ve heard the idea and it’s one of those things you know will exist but is hard to build).
Skillset is mostly information retrieval + community building. A background in those things would be a plus but the must haves are someone (1) deeply technical, (2) wants to work full throttle, and (3) wants to be the CTO. I’m open to various levels of experience, all the way down to someone just out of college.
Are you a match of Founder X? Email me firstname.lastname@example.org — you and I either need to know each other already, or you should have someone I know introduce us. In this case I can’t just forward on messages from people I don’t know. Your interest will be confidential. Trust me, this is a cool opportunity.
Armed with Jessica’s feedback, I asked Founder X why he was expanding beyond the people he’d worked with before. Here’s his reply – it’s an interesting peek inside the mind of a serial entrepreneur:
Experienced entrepreneurs see about 10 to 15 attributes that it’s really important to have alignment on. New entrepreneurs only see about four and everything else is a result of gut feel or randomness.
This calibration of what to look for makes experienced founders quicker to see important misalignments with close friends. It also gives them the filtering power to parse through the much larger friends-of-friends candidate pool. Both of these forces make it more likely that experienced entrepreneurs will be open to friend-of-a-friend cofounders.
(Just to gut-check this I made a quick list of some things to filter on, and came up with the following 16.)
- Timing re availability and when to start the company
- Working with any life circumstances (geography, significant other, etc)
- Who is CEO
- How hard to work
- Skills maturity alignment
- Alignment on what core competency you want to build a company around
- Complementary on optimism v.s. paranoia tendency
- Complementary on details v.s. big picture focus
- Preferences on enterprise v.s. consumer
- Aiming for big swing v.s. base hit
- Having basic functions covered: hiring, marketing, product design, eng, finance, management, etc
- Able to communicate well (similar mental primitives, compatible styles of disagreeing)
- Similar levels of commitment to the startup
- Able to share burdens / support each others’ psychologies and stress levels
- Anything else that goes into trust
- Anything else that goes into how you feel about being in the room with the other person for 12 hours a day
So there you go. Let me know if you’re interested. I’m not getting anything out of this other than hopefully bringing two folks together to build something awesome.