Founders, beware the one-night-stand

Things to remember in the hunt for the elusive co-founder.

As a sole person working on a budding venture, I agree with conventional wisdom that one needs co-founder(s) to succeed (even those who say you don’t generally imply you shouldn't be single forever). Co-founder(s) are sounding boards, shoulders to cry on, and a jolt of peer pressure pushing toward success. No one doubts this.

But I think more and more people are just settling for a co-founder, when the process is more suited to be thought of as a prolonged headhunt (I liken this to how long many companies leave senior positions vacant or with temporary openings in their search for the “one”). Even experts agree that leaving a spot vacant is better than placing a misfit (even if the edges are just slightly unaligned).

Yet, on the other side, as many investors will tell you—if you can’t inspire at least one person to join you, how can you inspire thousands of employees or customers? But I don’t believe this analogy is right; a co-founder is so much more. S/he is:

  1. A customer who uses and evangelizes the product/ service themselves
  2. An employee who has just the right skillset and expertise needed
  3. A visionary leader with whom you have a creative, collaborative tension rather than a destructive, reductive one
  4. A partner for those long nights that never end

A co-founder is a unicorn.

I think we’re forgetting this. I see it when…

  • … after an hour’s discussion at yet another MeetUp, a developer looks at me with hope in the eyes and proclaims, I’m looking for a co-founder with consulting-type business experience
  • …there are a slew of co-founder dating sites with unpublished success rates (I am a member of several; no I have not gotten lucky yet)
  • …we look for co-founders in the same way that we used to search for a college roommate

Not that we can blame experienced investors who only want to focus on the model with the highest chance of success. But on both sides, maybe we could stand to be more open-minded. Entrepreneurial services for single founders until they get more people to join, even if it’s just advice (though with their extensive databases, they’re probably a better match-maker than a third party site), and entrepreneurs who follow a minimum 3 dates policy.

And of course, all of this depends on your situation, your runway time, your style, etc. All I ask, is that we be more mindful about the decisions we make when it comes to team. After all, this critical variable is one of the few in our complete control.

This blarticle was written in the context of building a product that helps people borrow occasional-use items (e.g., sleeping bags, electric drills) from their friends & neighbors. Check out the prototype here.