Monday, September 30, 2013

Lesson #156: How to Find a Co-Founder for Your Startup

Often times, a startup entrepreneur has a good business idea, but doesn't know how to build the product. Or, the entrepreneur has deep technology skills, but is lacking in business skills.  In many cases, these entrepreneurs are on the hunt for co-founders to help them build their businesses.  The problem is, they often don't know how to start the process or where best to look.  Hopefully, this lesson will point you in the right direction.

The first thing you need to do is scope your needs.  Make sure you are perfectly clear on what skillsets will be most needed for the success of the business, and best fill a hole in your own resume and desired management team.  Back in Lesson #83, we talked about the various roles and responsibilities within a startup's management team, so figure out what role your desired co-founder can fill.  For example, you don't need five technologists in the senior team, all bringing the same skillsets.  Marry technology skills with marketing or finance or operating skills for an effective blending of complementary skillsets.

Once the role is identified, now you need to find the right type of person to fill that role.  Back in Lesson #27, we talked about how VC's define a backable management team.  It is those kind of attributes that make an ideal candidate, especially if you plan on raising outside capital.  Things like the candidate's past-start experience, industry expertise, intelligence, credibility, passion/energy, communication skills, personality fit, etc. should all be considered.

Now that we know "what" we need and "who" we need, we need to know "where" to find them.  To me, everything starts with my personal network.  Who do I know has a rolodex of people that could fit this role?  Somebody that I trust who can personally vouch for this person.  This would include people in your desired industry, people with the desired skillset or other people in the startup ecosystem (e.g., recruiters, venture capitalists, lawyers, accountants, consultants, entrepreneurs) who may know of logical candidates for your pursue.

If you don't know anyone in your own personal network (1st degree connections), try to find the same type of people in your 2nd degree connections.  Hopefully, someone you know can make an introduction for you, and help vouch for you and your idea with the 2nd degree connection, in order to get them to trust you and invest their time in helping you.

If your connections do not work, you have no choice but to find a stranger as a co-founder.  You can find them on startup networking websites (like BuiltInChicago.org).  You can find them at startup networking events (like Technori Pitch or Techweek).  You find them walking the halls of shared startup co-working facilities (like 1871 or TechNexus).  There are even websites and events specifically designed around matchmaking co-founders for startups (like Startup Weekend, TechCofounder, CofoundersLab and Founder2Be). 

The last category to consider looking for a co-founder is to hire a recruiter or place a job posting on the logical job boards.  Websites like LinkedIn, Monster.com, CareerBuilder or CraigsList.  Or, better yet, niche job boards, like Dice for technical hires, as an example.  And, remember, in addition to soliciting inbound resumes from sites like these, try to cherry pick logical candidates by directly reaching out to them.  For example, if you are building a travel website and need a strong digital marketer, try to identify logical candidates from Expedia, Orbitz or Priceline via LinkedIn.  Perhaps they are bored in their current role, looking for a new project to excite them.  Or, they may know people who are looking.

But, as you should when making any new hire, make sure you have thoroughly done your homework on a candidate before "jumping in bed" with them.

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