Ask a single parent how hard it is to raise a child all alone & get them on right track. Raising a child is a big responsibility, there are so many unpredictable& strange things that can happen. In fact, raising a second child is equally challenging, as no two kids are the same. They have their own requirements, personality, demands, & emotions. It would be complete overconfidence if someone says that they are an expert in raising children, just because they raised their firstborn.
In the same way, building a startup all alone, is very challenging. It is absolutely impossible to have all of the skills required for a startup. Some of you may disagree with this, as there are very few examples of people who have built successful startups all alone. However, whoever achieved that, is an extraordinary person.
I am writing this based on my own experience, & I am not a person with those exceptional features, that’s for sure. I am a common person and I will like to talk & write for common people. So I will keep skipping over those exceptions throughout this series.
Why not team?
What about a team? Can’t we just hire smart people to build a team? Yes, of course, we can hire smart people and build a team. However, it’s important to note that employees join a company with their own agenda and aspirations, which may not align with the founder’s vision and passion. While they may perform their assigned tasks well, you need someone who is available to you all the time with the same passion, someone who can hold you accountable and dream the same dream as you – that’s the co-founder.
Finding the right co-founder is a challenging task as there are many parameters to consider beyond just their skill set. It’s often easier to find a good girlfriend/boyfriend than it is to find a compatible co-founder. If you’re passionate about your startup vision, you’ll be spending more time with your co-founder than with your spouse or significant other. I know this from personal experience; I’ve faced many arguments at home. That’s why it’s crucial to find the right co-founders early on and ensure that you’re all aligned in terms of objectives, mission, and vision. A strong co-founding relationship is the foundation of a successful startup, so don’t mess it up, as I did.
The next important question is, who is the right candidate to join as a co-founder? What skills do they need to possess, where can they be located, and how diverse can they be compared to you? How do we find them? I’m sure you have a long list of such questions.
Why arranged marriage won’t work in a startup?
Finding the right co-founder is not like an arranged marriage, where a matchmaker evaluates one party based on a set of parameters set by the other party. For those unfamiliar with arranged marriages, let me provide some information from Wikipedia.
“Arranged marriage is a type of marital union where the bride and groom are primarily selected by individuals other than the couple themselves, particularly by family members such as the parents. In some cultures a professional matchmaker may be used to find a spouse for a young person.“ .. source Wikipedia
The point I’m trying to make here is that in the arranged marriage scenario, one party, usually the bride (in my personal view), has to make many adjustments, compromises, and sacrifices, and work hard to keep the arrangement healthy. In the startup world, you definitely don’t want one co-founder to make all the adjustments, compromises, and sacrifices. You want someone who can add value, engage in healthy debates, bring their point of view to brainstorming sessions, hold you accountable for your part, and take an unbiased stand on critical points. Otherwise, it will be a sole founder scenario, and you’ll face the same challenges.
Similarly to arranged marriage matchmakers, there are now plenty of portals and apps for co-founder matchmaking. However, don’t be too hopeful about them. I wasted my time on them, and I strongly advise you all to be cautious. Instead, it’s better to start looking for co-founders around you. You can use these portals and apps to connect with potential co-founders, but that’s just the first step. You’ll need to work it out in the real world, have real interactions, spend some time together, maybe work on small projects together, and figure it out.
Evaluating a Co-Founder.
Let’s look at a few parameters that I think are the most critical to consider:
- Integrity and trustworthiness
- Active listening
- Stage in life
That being said, it is very unlikely that we will be able to find the perfect match that satisfies all of these parameters. Additionally, let’s not forget that we will also be evaluated on these same parameters by other people.
Let’s look at each one of these parameters closely.
Integrity and trustworthiness
We cannot build any long-lasting relationship without trust, transparency, and honesty. You may not realize how long this relationship will last, but many co-founder relationships last longer than successful marriages. A notable example is the successful partnership of Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger, who have been working together since 1978. Can you imagine working together for such an extended period without integrity and trust in each other? That’s why knowing your co-founder personally is the key.
This is something that again will need to be evaluated with real-life experience. Do you think you can have good chemistry with him/her? Do they have those common molecules to build that chemistry? In my view, you will need to spend some time together to understand this. Virtual meet-and-match making can just get you started with that, but then you will have to go a long way to know him/her personally and build confidence. Will you have that time? So the best approach is to look around yourself, surround yourself with the right people of an entrepreneurial mindset, and if possible, move to a place where you can easily surround yourself with such people. It will be a time-taking process to find the right buddy and know him/her closely.
You have started or want to start on this journey because you are passionate about something. To find someone to join on this journey, it is essential that he/she must have a similar passion. That being said, it will be extremely difficult to find such a perfect match. So now your best bet is to find someone who is genuinely excited about your idea and shows the same level of excitement every time you talk about it, not just during the initial introduction. Your challenge lies in assessing the sincerity of their fervor and determining their willingness to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the endeavor.
My boss once mentioned this to me, “God has given us two ears and one mouth, & there is a reason behind it.” This is so true, I didn’t even realize for a long time, why he specifically mentioned that to me. Often, we tend to use these tools in the opposite manner in which they were intended. Through my own experience, I realized, active listening itself can resolve so many differences and ego issues that come along during this journey. The good news is that you will be able to figure out very quickly whether he/she is an active listener or not. You may not find the perfect active listener but look for signs of awareness and willingness to engage in active listening practices.
This is critical as this is where lots of people end up making a mistake. As human beings tend to get along with people who have a skill set similar to us, as having a common factor correlates with our feelings. Techies tend to like techies, sales guys get along with other salespeople well, and marketing guys talk the same language and get along quickly. But that’s exactly what we don’t want to have as a co-founder, as we need multiple skill sets to build a startup, and rarely does one person bring all the skill sets. So you need to start looking for someone who can bring the skills that you are missing and fill that gap. This is precisely why institutions like MIT encourage collaboration between students from various disciplines, such as engineering and business. That’s why we see so many startups coming out of MIT, most of the time those are the results of such collaborations. So look for someone who is not like you. It’s strange but the fact of the startup world.
Stage in life
This may not be super critical, but I felt it does matter. Someone’s stage in life will have a different perspective of looking at things and will have different priorities. If you are a senior, you may be more willing to give back to society and be driven by that, while the younger generation may have different views and goals for their own life. Many times I hear people saying, “Get guys from college, give them a stake, and make them co-founders, and they will work their asses off.” It doesn’t work that I can say with confidence based on my own experience. The perspective toward life will matter to have a better conversation. This definitely matters in the case of a vision-driven startup, as the journey of such a vision-driven startup is very uncertain, and it would be completely unfair to expect the same level of patience from these young kids. But it can be subjective based on the objective of the startup, so do give thought to this based on your scenario. You can always find a mentor or team member from different stages in their life to bring a different perspective if required.
I realized through my own experience that your speed of finding market fit is directly related to you and your team’s complete commitment to the project. It’s not about full-time or part-time, it’s about whether everyone on the core team is 100% convinced and willing to go the extra mile, often beyond their core competency, to achieve milestones in time. If everyone is not committed fully, it will be difficult to pull off. So make sure your buddy is committed and will remain committed and not get involved in multiple things. It’s absolutely important to make it clear early on. The focus of the core team will be critical.
There are many factors to consider when selecting the right cofounder, and it’s essential to evaluate each other thoroughly. That’s why finding the perfect founder can be extremely challenging. If you look at successful cofounders, you’ll find that many of them share commonalities like attending the same batch, or college, living in the same neighborhood, or belonging to the same club or community. I personally recommend not relying too heavily on virtual matchmaking and instead surrounding yourself with the right people in person.
Stay Tuned for an upcoming article on,
Brainstorming and Conceiving: How Conceiving in Parenthood is similar to Brainstorming Startup Ideas