Finding your co-founder is a bit of a hit-and-miss method
Two misses so far, and I am still waiting for a hit!
Every week, I write an article to share my learning or discovery during my startup journey. Here is the link to my reasons for penning these articles for myself and for many others like me.
I have been active on some job sites, where they publish the jobs for co-founders. After a short stint as a solo founder, I now understand that having a co-founder has advantages. But, I have also read many stories about misunderstandings between co-founders as one of the reasons for startup failure. The lack of co-founders’ camaraderie can destroy a startup more quickly than the lack of product-market fit. Therefore, it is vital to have good tuning with your co-founders.
I applied for a few positions for co-founders on these sites. Recently I had two such experiences from this job application. Unfortunately, both did not turn out to be positive ones.
In the first instance, the owner shared a video message with all the applicants for the co-founder position. He laid out some stringent conditions for the future co-founders. Some of them were:
• Equity based on performance
• Full-time commitment to the company
• No salary for an indefinite period
• Variable vesting period of equity
• Very low equity < 1%
• The exact amount of equity will be based on your contribution to the company
Though he used the term “Co-founders” for us, it felt like he was looking for employees. These conditions reminded my performance reviews in my earlier employment days. My manager used to say that my performance has been outstanding, but still, there is a scope for improvement. Hence, increments will not be significant for this appraisal cycle, but he is looking forward to better performance and even better increments in the next appraisal cycle. Surprisingly, the better increments never materialized as the performance benchmarks changed every year.
This video message from the owner left a lot of doubts in my mind. Why can’t this owner talk one-to-one with the prospective co-founders? I felt that he want to get work done for free. Later these people will create situations, so the new co-founder will have to part ways, leaving the meager equity amount with them only.
The second instance was a bit better than the first one. The owner could find time to talk directly with me. He did not mention any preconditions, as in the earlier instance. But this one had a different problem. He did not clarify the division of responsibilities between him and the other co-founders. Whatever work we discussed in our initial conversation needs to be done by me (or the new co-founder). The list seems to be endless, it is :
• Sales & Marketing,
• Product Development
• Business Roadmap
• Team Building
• Investors’ pitching
After looking at this list, it felt that this guy wants to manage his business by Abdication then by Delegation (as per Michael Gerber in E-Myth book). He wanted to hand over all his work to me so that he could do something else.
As we exchanged more messages, it became apparent that his person came out with new business ideas every day. He is now interested in working in the Fintech domain, which is entirely different from the domain of his earlier idea.
I do not feel comfortable collaborating with a person who oscillates a lot of times. If you are looking for co-founders, you must have clarity on what you want to build. Just for brainstorming your ideas, it is better to use different startup groups.
Here are my learnings in finding a co-founder from these two instances:
- Owners who are putting the requirement for a co-founder in these job posts are looking for an employee only — one who can take their workload or can work for free.
- If you are looking for a co-founder, remove the hiring manager hat from your head. Try to know your future co-founder more. Do more listening and less talking. Check if that person’s values and vision match with yours. Talking about your expectations and work culture in a monologue will not help you. The new co-founder will also co-create the work culture and your company values. Get to know this person more, so you evaluate if this person fits with your company values or not
- The other person is also evaluating you as a co-founder. Hence, it would help to show your authenticity and maturity as an owner. Just because you happen to put an ad for a co-founder position does not validate your title as a founder. In your interactions, show your passion and commitment to your idea. Tell your story and “Why” of your startup, so other people feel a connection with your venture.
To summarize — treat a co-founder as your peer/equal rather than a subordinate to delegate some tasks. Having an idea does not make you the “Master of the universe” if you need co-founders to help you succeed — respect and recognize their contribution to your startup journey.
Wishing you a great week and hope you get to meet more people that share your values in vision.
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