Tips for meeting cofounders and ensuring you pick the right person to join you on the startup journey.
Teaming up with the right cofounder is the first and perhaps most critical step in building a successful startup. Inevitably there will be many highs and lows along the way. Partnering with someone you trust is crucial for the rollercoaster ride. So, how do you go about finding the right person to join you on the journey?
Cofounder relationships are often compared to marriages. During the workweek, I can spend more time communicating with my cofounder than my partner. Just like picking your life partner, picking your cofounder is not a decision to be taken lightly. You’ll want to do everything you can to be sure that they are “the one” before committing. Speaking from experience, if the cofounder relationship falls apart things will get messy. Almost inevitably it means one of you will move on from the company. Having cofounder agreements and vesting schedules in place is absolutely critical in this case. For the founder that remains, coming back from a cofounder’s departure can be treacherous. With that scary message, how should you go about picking the right cofounder?
The obvious way to go about picking a cofounder is first thinking through the people you know. They are someone who would not only be the right partner but also have complementary skills. Probably the best place to start is people you’ve worked with before. You’ll have a good sense of their skills, work ethic, and what they like to work on. Tom and I worked together for a couple of years together at a previous startup before starting Taskable. Working through those highs and lows together gave us a lot of insights into how each other dealt with pressure and the startup rollercoaster ride.
In the How to Start a Startup series, Sam Altman of YC also suggests looking at people you studied with as a pool of potential cofounders.
If you don’t know anyone, probably the best thing to do is start working on your startup yourself. If you have a problem you want to solve and are uniquely placed to solve it, don’t wait around for someone else to get going.
This approach is excellent for a variety of reasons. For one, you get to start working on something right away. For another, you begin to validate your startup hypothesis and build some momentum. This makes recruiting future cofounders, employees, even investors much more straightforward.
Best of all... [is a] cofounder you know. Not as good as that, but still okay, [is being a] solo founder. - Sam Altman
Often you’ll find non-technical people trying to recruit a tech cofounder. This is usually true of people new to the startup world who think they have a brilliant idea for an app and just need someone to build it. This is a red flag to prospective technical cofounders (and investors, for that matter). If you want to show how serious you are about solving a problem and building a startup, find a way to create an MVP and validate your hypothesis. This could be through using low/no-code builders. If it’s a marketplace, do things offline or with off-the-shelf software to get your first revenue and prove there is a need for what you’re building. If you can’t find creative ways to get started building, you haven’t passed the first test of being a founder.
If you do decide you absolutely need someone to join you, there are a few places I’d start. Again, ideally, you will have already got going, and now you’re just looking for someone to join what you’ve already started.
The first place I would start is attending a Techstars Startup Weekend. These are 3-day events, run in cities worldwide, where aspiring founders come together and work on a new startup idea. You can bring your vision, pitch it to other attendees, and try to get them to join your team to work on it with you for the weekend. What's great about this model is you have at least a few days of working with someone before deciding if you want to continue with them. It will give you a better sense of their skills, work ethic, and leadership ability. Most importantly, you’ll get an understanding of how you get along and collaborate.
Another place to look would be Indie Hackers’ 'Looking to Partner Up' group. Indie Hackers is full of experienced people with a wide range of backgrounds, including software engineers, marketers, no-code wizards, and more. Often they've already worked on their own side-projects, so they know the ups and downs of being a founder and building something new. Finally, it's just a great community. If you are thinking of starting something new, you should be hanging out there anyway.
Finally, YC's Startup School team created a cofounder matching tool. You'll need to get your profile approved first; then, you'll be able to start browsing prospective co-founder bios. Again, if you are looking to start something new, YC's Startup School is an excellent place to be anyway. There is a ton of great content and a community there to help you build your startup.
If you can spend time with people you meet via these channels and work on a project together for a few days or even weeks, that would be an excellent way to get a sense of if you are a fit before formally starting something new together.
There are several other ‘dating’ services like CoFounders Lab, which have bad reviews. I have no first-hand experience with these channels, but my general sense would be to avoid these.