You’re going to spend more time with your co-founder than with your spouse. This is why finding the right one is the one activity you CANNOT afford to rush. If you’re truly passionate about founding a company, you have only two options: compromise or keep on looking.
The vast majority of startups fail due to a founders’ mismatch. To mitigate that, it’s highly recommended to start a company with past colleagues or people you’ve studied with, as this is a great proxy to knowing how well you work and interact together.
But — what happens if you don’t have this person around you?
In this post I’ll outline the process of finding a co-founder. It’s not a bullet-proof process nor science, but a more systematic approach to the first and most important stop of your company’s journey.
These insights are based on 6-months of searching for my co-founding team, including dozens of talks, working sessions, and hours of reading startup content from experts such as Sam Altman, Michael Seibel and more.
Step 1 — Define your ideal co-founder
Before talking to anyone, you need to know what you’re looking for — who is this person that in an ideal world you’ll start a company with?
After many iterations with different definitions, I relate to Sam Altman’s guidelines the most: 1) Core values, 2) Aptitude and 3) Skills.
Ask yourself: what’s the foundation of which a world-class company is made of? There are so many cliché phrases, but there are a few that fully resonate with you, and that is of who you are. For me those are: openness to feedback, relentless execution, and having a growth mindset.
While it might be ambiguous, for me it meant someone that has personal experience with healthcare. It can be due to work experience within the healthcare industry, or a personal story that made one keen about advancing healthcare.
“Aptitude is a great proxy for domain passion”
Skills can be the ability to code in Python or the know-how of running a Facebook campaign. More often than not, people overvalue this trait. I’ve seen it through my experience in early-stage startups, but mostly via colleagues and friends telling me about their failures in building a company- it’s never about not having the deep learning ninja nor the marketing expert from Google.
“Knowledge and experience should come third to values and aptitude if faced with a trade-off”
That said, if you’re building a software company, it’ll be close to impossible to pull it off without having a technical co-founder.
Like everything in life — iterate. Be open to challenge your initial definition of your ideal co-founder while talking and learning from others. In my case, I was convinced that I should be looking for a medical doctor. It was after I met several doctors when I realized that the transition from a clinic setting into an office one with a startup pace — would be of a challenge. I therefore revised my definition to ‘doctors that have industry experience, ideally in a startup environment’.
Since then, I’ve iterated this definition for a few more times.
Personal tip: I found it useful to have someone specific in mind, even if not realistic, when thinking about your ideal co-founder. It allows you to have a more concrete benchmark when interacting with potential co-founders. In my case, this person is Rahul Vahura, Superhuman’s CEO — I’ve realized that after following his take on startups and having more than 10h of talks during our interview process.
Step 2 — Create the Ripple Effect
Filtering for your perfect-match would mean you’ll have to screen through thousands of people on different platforms. That’s why you should be focusing on creating a ripple effect, where every action leads to 10x the exposure.
How? You want everyone to know that 1) You’re passionate about what you do, 2) You’re skillful, hence you’re the right person to build this company and 3) that you’re looking for a co-founder(s).
This way, you’ll (potentially) be reached out by top-notch founders looking exactly for you.
LinkedIn is a powerful tool when it comes to getting to know other like-minded people and building your brand. Many of the co-founders I’ve met came solely through LinkedIn reach outs, either via mutual connections or cold ones.
Share on LinkedIn that you’re looking
Write a short post telling people you’re actively looking for a co-founder. Treat it the same as launching a product: ask friends and colleagues to re-share, like and comment to boost reach.
Update your LinkedIn title
Your title is visible whenever you post, comment or react to others’ activity. Make sure that in the blink of an eye, one would understand who you are and what you’re looking for — make it actionable! E.g. ‘Healthcare CEO looking for CTO’.
Leverage your own network
Go through your connections and reach out to people you value or have worked with in the past. Even if they’re currently not looking to start something new, they might refer you to someone who does (ripple effect, remember?).
Also, look for connections that are multipliers such as VCs, angles and well-known domain experts. Multipliers can connect and introduce you to people that are looking to start something new.
Naturally, they’ll also be of value in the different phases of actually running your company.
Post about the topic you’re passionate about
One way would be by sharing articles about the topic and include your 2 cents. This will help you in getting widely-known within this domain.
Although intended for sales teams, LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator is 61€ well-spent and extremely useful when filtering for potential co-founders. In my case, as an example, people that have worked in a business position in well-known Berlin healthcare startups such as Ada Health. You can also filter for years of experience, location, etc.
Source through members of groups that correlate with the domain of the company you’re building. E.g. a group called Digital Healthcare Entrepreneurship would probably be relevant if you’re in the healthcare domain.
Personal tip: regardless of how did you find a potential ‘lead’, you should always strive for an intro rather than a cold reach out. This adds a lot of trust.
Meetups, Conferences and Hackathons
Physically meeting people is another great way to expand your network and strengthen past connections. It may require you going out of your comfort zone, especially if that is your first company. That’s OK, embrace it and remind yourself that entrepreneurship is all about daring and people value confidence.
Attend meetups and conferences that are relevant to your company’s domain, e.g. — if you’re building an IoT company, you should attend the ‘IoT Berlin’ meetup. That said, I would advise being cautious when it comes to meetups and only attend ones you believe you can either learn from or meet people of interest (Tip: check who’s attending on the event page).
Hackathons are another good idea as you get to work together with others, getting a glimpse of how well you interact. If it goes well, you might want to follow up and explore together as co-founders — I know a couple of founding teams that started out this way.
Utilize your core skills
We all have at least one core skill that makes us a great founder. For me, it was my experience building AI products as both an engineer and a product manager. Take advantage of these skills — give talks in meetups, participate or mentor in hackathons, etc.. You’ll get to meet many like-minded people and further spread the word.
Tips when talking to people
Be concise. People have a tendency to forget that time is valuable. Take full advantage of your one-minute elevator pitch to share a bit about yourself and your idea. If the other person is also looking for a co-founder — great, but even if not, mention that you’d appreciate him keeping you in mind and connect on LinkedIn.
Some good advice I got in the Bay Area was exactly about the power of connections: always end a talk by asking ‘can you think of anyone else I would benefit from talking to?’. You wouldn’t believe how many valuable connections I’ve made by following up with this simple question.
There is no one single truth about what is an ideal co-founder and how to find him/her. Yet, the systematic approach of clearly defining who you’re looking for, then taking the right steps to spread the word, and lastly going through a thorough evaluation process — might be a great way to find the right partner(s) to spend the next 7 years together!
Good luck 🚀
Thanks for reading, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn