Over the last couple of months, we’ve visited about a dozen college campuses and spoken with hundreds of students, many of who are thinking about starting their first business. One of the most common questions we get asked is, “How do I find my co-founder?”
It’s a perfectly understandable question! Pursuing a startup alone is a daunting task.
Paul Graham, renowned investor and co-founder of Y Combinator once said,
“Starting a startup is too hard for one person. Even if you could do all the work yourself, you need colleagues to brainstorm with, to talk you out of stupid decisions, and to cheer you up when things go wrong.”
So the question remains – how do you find someone to join you on this insane mission where 90% of founders fail their first time around? Here are a few things you can start doing right now:
- Figure out what you need
Great co-founders complement each other, both in skillset and mindset. The best co-founders know they can’t do everything, so they partner with individuals who have the skills they lack.
Perform an honest assessment of yourself and decide what kind of person you’re looking for.
Are you a techie, and need someone with marketing, sales, or operating skills? Come from a finance background and need someone to help build out your product? These are the basic questions you may have already considered. But just as much as you need complementary skillsets, you need complementary mindsets. You’re going to be spending A LOT of time with this person. Having a shared mission and drive to reach your goals is absolutely vital.
It also helps if you actually enjoy hanging out with each other.
- Talk to people
“Wait, but what if someone steals my idea?” Uh, news flash – your idea on its own isn’t worth the napkin it’s drawn on. And chances are, someone somewhere has had your idea before, or is even planning their own launch right now! Either way, it doesn’t matter. EXECUTION IS EVERYTHING. The more people you tell about your idea, the more feedback you will get which will help you refine your business plan. You may also find yourself speaking to someone who shares your vision, or someone who knows someone else who would make a good partner.
- Take advantage of your surroundings
If you’re a current college student, you’re surrounded by potential collaborators every day. In class, clubs, your dorm room, the cafeteria, Chipotle…your co-founder could literally be right around the corner. So get involved! Most schools have an Entrepreneurship Club and plenty of organizations specific to your area of interest. Seek them out, go to the meetings, and make an effort to connect with the other members.
- Use your networks, online and offline
In addition to talking to people in your inner circle, LinkedIn can be a great resource. Search through your connections using terms / skills that you desire in your co-founder, i.e. computer science, engineer, business development, finance, etc. You may be surprised to find that someone you know, but maybe haven’t spoken to in a while, has the skills and experience you’re looking for. You can also search for these terms among 2nd connections (people who are connected to someone in your network). If you find someone you want to contact, try to get an intro from your mutual connection.
- Use dedicated resources, online and offline
Because this need is so prevalent, there are many companies (often startups themselves) that have built platforms to help potential co-founders find each other. One where I’ve seen others have success is Co-Founders Lab. Local meetups and networking events (and Startup Island trips) can also be great outlets. You may or may not meet your co-founder, but at the very least you’ll put yourself out there and be able to talk to more people – always a good thing.
Lastly, before you shake hands, sign an operating agreement, or become blood brothers, make sure you spend enough time together to really get to know this person. Even consider a trial month – start working together in person and see how it goes, no strings attached.
At the very least, when you do sign that operating agreement, make sure equity vests over time. In other words, each co-founder earns his/her shares as the company matures. You don’t want to be stuck in a situation where things aren’t working out with a founder who already has 50% of the company. It’s an easy way to kill a business before it even gets off the ground.
Remember, a co-founder relationship is like a marriage, but with an even higher divorce rate. And your company can only be successful if you stay together through thick and thin. So choose wisely!
Image Credit: CC by Nicolas Raymond