Prologue, Apr 2011
It started on a rainy evening. I was working for a company that made widgets. (Really, they make customized social widgets for clients). I had spent the entire day poring over a jumble of hideous Java code that could have been written by a thousand monkeys on typewriters.
Any mention of using a more elegant language like Python, (or heaven forbid Ruby) was blasphemy. We had no tests for the most important stuff that always kept breaking. There had to be a better way to do this.
Yet, the powers that be refused to allow any changes to the status quo.
That’s when I knew I was going to build my own company. I had dinner with my friend David and we decided we were going to build our own startup.
So, I quit.
Unfortunately, David got cold feet and decided it was too risky to do this. Whoops.
So, there I was, all alone.
And there began my journey to find a co-founder.
Hackers and Founders
One of the first things I did was to attend meetups aimed at connecting co-founders. “Hackers and Founders”, “Bay Area Co-Founder Meetup”, and many others.
The experience was a bit disappointing. I’ve catalogued the types of people I met there:
- People already doing a startup and trying to recruit you as a “co-founder” for a laughable equity stake
- “Business people” with an idea looking for code monkeys (I really think this notion of a “business person” is bogus. All founders need to have business sense. And you don’t need an MBA for it. But I digress)
- People selling consulting (or other) services
- Poachers – people working for established companies trying to hire you
- People with almost no useful skills for building a startup
- People looking for free beer or pizza
I quickly realized this wasn’t working. So, I moved on to…
Basically a glorified hackathon. The whole event had a bit of a juvenile feel to it.
Everyone was excited about the idea of a startup, but almost everyone had a full-time job and just lacked the seriousness necessary to focus on a startup. I was in a group of 10 people (can you imagine 10 founders for a startup?), many of whom didn’t even live in the San Francisco Area.
It was pandemonium. Much like a county fair. =) But, hey, at least the rides were fun!
I did get to meet some great designers and some smart people there, who I’m still in touch with.
So, overall it was worth it. Just don’t expect to meet your co-founder there.
Match.com and OkCupid
Just as you can date online, there are several sites focused on helping entrepreneurs find each other. I created profiles on two of these: Techcofounder.com and FoundersHookup.com.
Within days, from Techcofounder, I was inundated with emails from “business guys” with no coding ability (or any desire to learn coding) who wanted me to build their idea for them.
I think I immediately deleted over 90% of the emails. I also found lots of people in other parts of the country (New York, Seattle, etc) emailing me, which was a bit odd. And what’s with so many business folks asking you to sign NDAs?
I quickly got turned off.
FoundersHookup was slightly better, because it had more advanced search, allowing you to focus on the right people.
Also, their system of connecting is really great – you simply express interest in a person and they get notified and if they are interested, they send an email with both people on it. No need to write a long message or read a long pitch.
I met some people from both the sites, but didn’t really find anyone that was interested in the same spaces and was able to work full-time on a startup.
Finding a co-founder is SO much like dating as I was starting to discover. You end up spending so much time together, that compatibility is the MOST important thing.
Actually, it’s more like marriage, not dating. And, there’s an event aptly named “Founder Dating” that aims to help entrepreneurs find a match.
What I like about this event is it attracts a much higher quality of people – only people who are seriously devoted to doing a startup and have useful skills demonstrated by past experience.
You have to apply and interview and they hand select a small group of people.
I did meet someone from the event and we went on a “date” afterwards. We worked together for a few weeks and I quickly realized that I was doing all the work.
It just felt weird to be writing code non-stop for weeks while your co-founder is just sitting around. Now, I don’t expect anyone to become an expert coder.
I just think it’s important to be willing to learn. Especially front-end stuff that I’m not good at and that would help us build this stuff much faster. To me, an unwillingness to learn suggests a fundamental lack of respect for the engineering side of a startup.
After all, I’ve picked up a lot of so-called “business stuff” in the last few months. Things like customer acquisition channels and acquisition cost vs. lifetime value – things that I had no background in, but just seemed fundamental knowledge for any startup founder.
And I’m willing to learn whatever I need to in order to make my company succeed. So, why can’t the “business guy” do the same thing?
This wasn’t going to work for me, so I called off our relationship. I was single again!
Towards the end of June, I got accepted into the Founder Institute, which is something like an incubator, but not exactly.
I was in a group of 5 people: one in LA, one lived in Chicago and was here only for the program and a third who had a startup running for 3 years already (It’s still not clear to me why these people were in the program at all or more importantly why they weren’t screened out).
It was obvious that the application process was a farce and everyone was given admission). Only one of the people seemed serious about any of it, but he was working on something I had very little interest in. From mingling around, it seemed mine was one of the better groups!
One of the main reasons I joined the program was to gain mentorship from the advisors in the program.
It turns out, most of the advice you get is from the people within the group you’re assigned to! The blind leading the blind.
They also advertise that you might find your co-founder in the program. That seemed pretty unlikely from what I could see.
They offered a 24 hour money-back guarantee. I quickly took it.
The good thing about all this was I was quickly narrowing down a set of criteria to use in choosing a co-founder. And this was turning out to be very helpful. Specifically, I realized I was looking for:
- Full time commitment (actually, it’s more like 24-7 commitment)
- (a) Ability to code or willingness to learn and (b) passion for product definition (user experience, feature definition, etc)
- A real co-founder equity split (50-50 or something close to that
- Passion for the lean startup methodology (especially customer development)
That’s the basic threshold for me. The more important stuff like “how well do we work together” isn’t worth figuring out if the basic foundation isn’t there.
Epilogue, Dec 2011
Finding a good co-founder is pretty darn difficult. I still haven’t found one yet, but I’m confident that the groundwork I’ve been laying — and continue to lay — will connect me to the right co-founder at the right time.
I’ve also met some great people, some of who have become mentors and good sounding boards.
In the meantime, I have been executing on an idea that is as disruptive as Travelocity et. al. were to travel agencies.
I’ve started building out the minimum viable product, and hope to have the MVP done soon.
And I’m still looking for a co-founder to join me. So, drop me a note if you think that might be you!
P.S. A little blurb about me: I live in San Francisco, I studied Computer Science and Math at Carnegie Mellon, I’ve worked a variety of software jobs in the area. And I can be reached at: email@example.com
P.P.S. Follow me on twitter @andy_agrawal