Finding A Co-Founder: Compromise & Get Started

Building on yesterday’s “Finding A Co-Founder” I want to identify a couple of common challenges to getting started with people you have had prior shared success with  and offer some suggestions for how to compromise and get started working with them.

Reconnect with Folks You Have Successfully Collaborated With

I suggested the following approach:

  1. Make a list of everyone you have successfully collaborated with in the last decade or two.
  2. Recontact them and reconnect if you have lost touch.
  3. If their background, expertise, and interest are a fit with your needs:  assume that it will take a month or two to come to a working arrangement and get started.

Compromise and Get Started

I want to focus on what can be involved in coming to a working arrangement and getting started.

One common challenge you can face as an entrepreneur is to be  “in the grip of your new idea” to the extent it is hard to appreciate other perspectives.  Even before you talk to prospects (whose perspective is always valuable) you will normally talk with friends and former co-workers. They will offer three common suggestions:

  1. There are potential drawbacks or challenges to implementing your idea that you need to address.
  2. There are key details missing from your plan (e.g. step 2 in the “gnome underpants business model” ) that you often view as a minor detail but may in fact be a major stumbling block that require you to do more hard thinking.
  3. Some other ideas may be better for you to work on given your strengths and experience. Sometimes, if they are also entrepreneurial, it will be their idea. More on this in a minute.

These responses are different from what you may hear from friends who may not appreciate your entrepreneurial aspirations and  who will often offer these perspectives:

  1. If you are employed: “This is the Great Recession, don’t even think about quitting your job.”
  2. If you are not employed: “Don’t even think about starting a company, find a job until the economy improves.”

Note in both cases these are people you trust and who have your best interests at heart. The second group may even be right about your prospects for getting a startup off the group. But the second set is not a good place to recruit co-founders from. If they don’t have entrepreneurial aspirations, do not waste their time or yours trying to convince them to leave their job to start something with you.

The first group is much more promising. The primary stumbling block is often that they have ideas of their own that they want you to help them make real. There is a strong temptation to continue to talk to friends and former co-workers and then continue on to strangers in the hopes that someone will drop what they are working on and fully embrace your idea.  I think this is a mistake.

Building trust takes months and requires ongoing mutual expectation setting and delivery. If you can start working with someone that you have worked with previously and enjoyed some success with you have substantially reduced the risk of a breakdown in team dynamics. I think it’s better to compromise and start working where you compare notes in a co-working model to can help generate forward progress. Agree to spend one or two days per week assisting the other person, or trade-off one day a week with two other people each to explore their current best idea.

This will allow you get better at customer discovery and customer validation. You will have a useful emotional distance on their ideas and will be able to help even if you ultimately go your separate ways. And they can help you, creating accountability for results and progress that is harder if you are working alone.

It’s likely your idea is going to evolve in response to what you learn while exploring it and you may be able to come to a blended idea in a month or two. Worst case you have made forward progress, you have someone you can bounce ideas off of and get their perspective, and working on their project may also give you a useful frame of reference for evaluating your own ideas.

“Stand in the place where you are
Your feet are going to be on the ground
Your head is there to move you around.”

from lyrics to “Stand” by R.E.M

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