As we've scaled Slidebean and had the chance to connect with hundreds of companies, one of the most common questions I get is around how to find a cofounder. The most common scenario I come across is an executive/business/sales founder, looking to find a tech co-founder to develop the product they have in mind.
So let's dissect this situation, understand the challenge this startup faces and look for alternatives to meeting that persona.
In this article, we'll look into:
- Assessing if you can be a solo founder.
- The ideal co-founder trio.
- Of course, how to recruit a co-founder and finally,
- Evaluating whether or not you are a fit.
It's sporadic to see a tech guy finding a business co-founder. When a tech guy has a product or business idea, they go and build it, they put the product live and promote it with their friends and their networks. If the product is good, it grows.
It's not THAT simple, but the ability to build a product without spending cash (other than on Redbulls for your hackathons) is a variable that could make or break a business.
The most common struggle for businesses that are led by a tech person is sales and distribution. If you only focus on the product or the technology but can't find a scalable way to get it in front of people, things aren't working fine.
Still, in today's tech world, it's easier to recruit growth marketing and salespeople than it is to hire developers- at least in my perception.
Now, on the other hand, a non-tech guy may have a product concept in their minds, but if they can't build, then the idea is pretty much worthless.
I see a lot of founders go and pay for tech agency to develop an MVP, which I believe is a terrible mistake. The agency will follow the directing of the client, but the final product will likely need to change drastically from what's originally conceived.
When every one of those changes requires a new contract or extra (full-cost) hours from the agency, then chances are you'll spend a lot of money very fast.
Another incorrect approach is just to 'hire a developer,' especially if that person is overseas. Once again, the developer will follow the directions of his employer; and what I'm trying to get to is... business people are often bad at product management.
The first tech person in a tech startup should have founder status. They should have the ability to challenge the CEO and direct the product in the best possible way.
- This will be harsh, but if you don't have a tech or UX background, then you probably don't know what makes a great product. You need that expert bringing ideas, not just the following direction.
- Even if your product concept is good, the first, and the second, and the third versions will probably suck. You probably can't afford to pay those versions to an agency, so you need to do it in house, with a co-founder that is committed to the business the way you are.
In the end, a startup is a race against time, and by time, I mean money. You can pivot your product, your growth plans, and your audience as long as you have money in the bank. The more iterations a company can do, the bigger the chance of success.
Now that I've probably convinced you that you need a co-founder, let's look into THE IDEAL FOUNDER TRIO.
I believe this comes from a 2012 quote from, Rei Inamoto, the chief creative officer for AKQA: "To run an efficient team, you only need three people: a Hipster, a Hacker, and a Hustler. "
The Hipster usually joins the team as a designer or creative genius, and they'll make sure the final product is cooler than anything else out there.
The Hacker should have the capacity to build the product and scale it so that millions of people can use it without crashing.
And finally the Hustler: a rather misunderstood team member. In charge of selling the vision of the company (to the investors) and the product (to the customers).
Non-intentionally, we found ourselves with a Hustler/Hacker/Hipster trio at Slidebean and speaking from experience, it works.
Three minds are better than two. Three is also an odd number that's better when holding votes. Most importantly, these three co-founders should sum up all the skills you need to get your business to a fundable position. What's a fundable position? Check out our video on startup funding.
The three of you should be able to solve the product, the sales cycle, the marketing, and any other major business challenge you could face before the business is interesting enough for an investor. Chances are you will work with low wages until then, and it's unlikely that you'll be able to convince anyone else to join you at those stages.
I've seen startups with four co-founders or more, which might become a problem of cash flow when an MVP-stage company needs to pay four people.
We built a mock product called cofoundrr- kind of a Tinder for founders. It was our April Fools' prank- but it helped us confirm how big of a problem this is.
I've said this many times; a co-founder relationship is like marriage without the sex. You need to see each other daily, you need to deal with tough decisions (many of them around money), and you'll be together for years to come... if not forever. You'll fight and argue and then need to see each other the next day.
A co-founder will also be there to support you, to share the burden of building a business, to take over when you need a break... so yeah.
The best way to start is to test working together, without the full commitment. If you know someone you've already worked with, then that should most definitely be your first choice.
If you don't know anyone, well, try to put yourself in a position where you can share a project with your potential co-founder. Perhaps a consulting project.
To share my own experience with the founders of Slidebean. I came up with the 'concept' of a simple, seamless presentation tool. I have some product background but as I said before, the product we have today is nothing close to what I had in my mind back then.
I went through elementary and high school with Vini and we were close friends. We had done some high school projects together as well as a couple of collaborations in college (my undergrad was 3D animation and his was UX and Industrial design).
I convinced him to join me for a consulting project, we worked together and conceptualized further on the idea for Slidebean.
We found Jose, our CTO on LinkedIn. No job openings or anything... we simply stalked a bunch of profiles and reached out to the ones that seemed interesting.
Jose had a well-paid day job but was interested in starting a business of his own. Vini and I didn't force the idea for Slidebean; instead, we sat down together to brainstorm of problem/solution combinations that we had come across in our experience, and that we had the skillset to solve.
Jose didn't quit his day job right away; instead, we worked together on some other consulting projects and started throwing ideas for Slidebean. It wasn't until we got accepted into Startup Chile that we were able to leave all of our other jobs behind and dedicate 100% of our time to the company.
The most critical part of these tests is agreeing on terms. We made a whole video about Founder Agreements. Who needs to sign paperwork if things are moving smoothly? Well, that's the best time to agree on things. When a team member hasn't done any work in weeks, and everyone else is upset... that's a terrible time to decide terms.
A few months ago, we started helping companies write their pitch decks. Many of the idea-stage companies we come across don't have a tech co-founder, and I get it; convincing a developer who is making a 6-digit salary at Google to drop their job and come work for this company might be a very tough sell.
On the other hand, proving that you can convince that guy to quit his day job, is a fantastic validation of the business.
You want someone who believes in the company and is willing to take the risk, not someone who you snatched because you gave them a higher salary.
If you don't have anyone in your network, then grow your network. Attend startup events, meetups, Startup Weekend events... definitely NOT conferences (go watch my video on Startup conferences).
Again, think of it like dating. Hang out, grab beers. Test the waters before you fully commit. If you aren't able to convince anyone to join you... take a step back and reconsider if the business proposition could be better.