As we all know by now, Denveen is no more. Yes, Foursquare’s junior cofounder and tech lead Naveen Selvadurai has decided to move on to new projects and who wouldn’t want to strike while the iron’s hot and leave one of the darlings of the industry? We’ve seen it before – founders being ousted from the companies they helped to create, including Jack Dorsey (Twitter), who did go on to found Square, and more famously Steve Jobs, who returned to Apple older, wiser and obviously much more capable of taking the reigns. We have no special insights as to the reasons/causes for Naveen’s departure, but in an industry where people are constantly looking for their cofounder, we can offer only something of a roadmap to potential landmines:
1. Finding a cofounder is like dating/marriage. Many end in divorce choose wisely and…
2. Don’t propose on the first date
3. Don’t jump into bed on the third date
4. Do your due diligence and yes, use social networks. That person might have great recommendations on Linkedin. Also use Linkedin to find people who might have worked with him or her, who didn’t write a recommendation. See what they have to say about your potential partner.
5. Don’t give away the store at the beginning of the relationship. Build in milestones and make sure they’re met before you give away the keys to the kingdom. This is your baby: make sure you’re not in bed with an axe murderer. Think of it as a pre-nup.
6. Hire a lawyer to negotiate your agreement. And yes, make sure to include a non-compete. If/when things do go south, and your partner has the information/tools to build without you – don’t leave him/her with the weapon to do so.
7. All of the above holds true, even in cases where you’ve known your potential cofounder forever. Look at Larry and Sergei. Larry’s at the helm. Sergei works on ‘special projects’ and shows up for photo ops: he hasn’t been booted from the company.
8. This is especially important: is the cofounder you’re bringing on today the one who can see the project through for the long haul? Is he/she there to build the prototype, but does he/she lack the necessary skills to be the CTO? Or does he/she have the contacts to get you going, but is not the leader you need long-term? Ask these questions up front. Have that conversation early on. Leads to less hurt feelings/potential lawsuits/unwanted media attention down the road.
Yes, a business partnership is like a marriage and you can potentially spend more time with that person than with your spouse and we are reminded of the Dorothy Parker poem, which you should keep in mind while you’re meeting/courting a potential cofounder you might have happened upon at some event:
“Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.”