Five Ways To Find The Right Cofounder
After a lot of hard work—brainstorming, researching, and testing—you’ve finally found the right idea to build your tech startup around.
You’ve got the plan, the desire, and the energy to start, but it’s become very clear that you’re missing something—you need a cofounder. Someone who can complement your skills, act as a sounding board or a voice of reason, and help you lift your startup idea into reality.
But you’re low on connections, you’re new to the startup world, maybe you live on a farm in the middle of Iowa. Basically, you’re utterly, hopelessly co-founderless.
What can you do?
If you’re at the point where you want to start your tech business, and all you need is a cofounder, congratulations, you’re actually in a very good place. And you have a lot of options.
Leverage Your Network
Your network is the first place you need to explore when looking for a cofounder.
A startup is a long-term investment; you need someone who will stick with you through all the challenges lying ahead. A cofounder is a person who helps you set the vision for the company and then carry it out even in the tough times.
For that, you need someone who trusts you, and preferably likes you: could be a friend, an acquaintance, a confidant. Whatever you want to call it, a cofounder is someone whose trust and support will push you throughout the entrepreneurial journey.
Trust, like Stephen Covey once said, “is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
When looking to people in your network, trust isn’t the only key criteria that you need in a potential cofounder. You also need to look for someone who has the skills you lack.
An important reason you want a cofounder is to help you with the tasks you can’t do. For example, if you’re a technical person, you will need someone with the business-savvy to help you find investors, market your business idea, and hire people. The same applies if it’s the other way around.
You may have found someone you trust, but if that person has similar skills as you, such a partnership will be of little use. One team of researchers found that having complementary skills was one of the main points several Harvard Business School alumni founders considered as key to starting a successful tech startup.
As one of the respondents said:
No 24-year-old engineer can acquire all of skills in five years. So, the crucial skill is learning how to form a founding team that can cover the gaps. A founder must be able to assess their own strengths and weaknesses and know how to recruit and motivate complementary founding team members.
When you go out to research your network—whether that’s through LinkedIn, Facebook, or your contact list—look for someone you really connect with, but also look honestly at the skills the people you’re considering bring to the table.
Attend Networking Events
Your network is the easiest place to look for a potential cofounder. But what if you lack much of a network to start with? What if you haven’t found anyone you trust who also has the skills you lack? What do you do?
Fortunately, you can still find a cofounder through the power of social networks.
Gone are the days when you had to rely on your local network. Nowadays, you can go to startup events to meet new people. In most large cities, these events pop up every few weeks, giving you lots of chances to meet new potential cofounders.
If you’re located in an up-and-coming startup hub like Barcelona, Sydney, or Hyderabad, the high number of talented people seeking to start a company will make it much easier to find a cofounder.
In other cities, you may have to look a bit more and go to more events to find a co-founder, but don’t lose hope. Millennials are highly entrepreneurial, and the mythology around the successful startup built in a dorm room or garage remains a powerful motivator, as is the desire to say out of an office cubicle.
While such sites tend to have fewer people, the specificity of the networks can make it easier to find a cofounder.
A key aspect that will make your cofounder search process easier and more effective is to have a well-defined, powerful elevator pitch—that is, a pitch that summarizes your startup idea’s value proposition and that helps people understand what your startup is all about.
A famous framework you can use to develop your elevator pitch is to use Geoffrey Moore’s positioning statement, which goes like this:
- For (target customers)
- Who are dissatisfied with (the current market alternative)
- Our product is a (new product category)
- That provides (key problem-solving capability).
- Unlike (the product alternative),
- Our product (describe the key product features).
While this statement is geared toward existing companies, you can still adapt it for your startup. For example, if you wanted to start a software company that helped people track their weight loss, you could pitch your idea like this:
- For people who want to lose weight
- Who are dissatisfied with MyFitnessPal
- Our product is a weight loss motivation tracker
- That provides support and accountability
- Unlike MyFitnessPal
- Our product empowers people to feel good while they lose weight
Go to a Founder Dating Event
This may sound a bit strange, but dating and finding a co-founder actually have a lot in common.
Earlier, I noted that one of the two most important qualities in a cofounder is trust. Dating is similarly about trust—the potential romantic partner you’re trying to connect with needs to trust you on some level to go out with you, and you them. More so if you form a partnership.
Because of these similarities, some people have embraced the idea that you can connect with a potential co-founder the same way you might a romantic one—that is, through speed dating.
In a speed dating event, you sit down with many potential romantic partners for one to five minutes each and see if you quickly connect with the other person. If you do, you get their phone number, and off you go on a real date.
In a similar vein, a founder dating event is like a regular networking event, minus all the pleasantries. Your job is simply to pitch your idea to others and see how they react.
Your goal at a cofounder dating event is to leave with a list of people you’d like to continue talking with to explore a potential partnership.
A key element of these events is to let your intuition speak for you. As Malcolm Gladwell puts it in his book Blink: “There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.”
Outsource Specific Needs
When you think about co-founders, you might imagine famous duos like Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, or Elon Musk and Peter Thiel.
But let’s be honest: you’re not aiming to be like them (at least, not right now). You just want to start a company that serves an audience no one serves and solves a unique problem no one solves.
So if you have the idea and the passion, but lack a team, you can always hire one. As Robert Walser once said, “money moves the world.”
By “hiring a team,” I mean outsourcing the skills you lack to experts, rather than trying to find one partner to help you fill them in. Outsourcing is a good way to start building your company if you have the money.
When considering outsourcing, there are two options available:
- Hiring specific freelancers
- Hiring an agency
A site like Upwork is the perfect tool to find freelancers from a wide range of skills, budgets, and experience levels.
Because you’re hiring specific people for specific tasks, the costs are often lower with freelancers. The problem with hiring individual freelancers is that if you need a complex or ongoing piece of work done, this may not be the best route.
An agency can also supplement your skills. If you’re a marketer, you can hire a development agency; if you’re a developer, you can hire a team to help you develop your business brand and marketing message.
Agencies can provide much more robust solutions; from building entire apps to developing a brand, and anything in between. Understandably so, the increased complexity means increased costs.
Costs aside, a local company that you can personally meet would be the best way to start, as makes it easier to communicate your ideas.
One problem that you may encounter when working with freelancers is that they may not invest 100 percent of their time and effort in your company, since they don’t have any skin in the game.
Where consultants have gone bad for us is when we tried to entrust our entire marketing function to a consultant marketing company. The problem we found was that the consultants had a very topical view of our business, did not sit with us everyday, and did not have the same passion and zeal for our company that we as founders naturally had. After three months, we stopped using them and learned a very important lesson.
Outsourcing is most effective when you control the output. For example, if you want a logo, you can hire a designer to do that for you. You know what you want; all you need is someone to get it done for you.
When you’re getting started, look to control the output of those you’re hiring. That could save the future of your company, and at the same time, help you make progress.
Start Alone (but Get Help)
Entrepreneurs have a saying that goes, “Ask for money, and you’ll get advice. Ask for advice, and you’ll get money.”
Similarly, if you go out chasing people to become your cofounder, there’s a chance the wrong person is going to jump on board.
For example, there’s that certain type of person who wants to launch a tech startup with dreams of becoming the next Evan Spiegel—a young billionaire living a life of glamour.
Team up with someone motivated by the wrong thing, or at least a very different thing, and you’ll end up working with someone who has very different values and goals than you do. That’s a bad way to get things started.
For that reason, if you can’t find a co-founder after a few months of searching, then your best bet may be to simply start alone.
You may not be able to build the next unicorn, but you will be able to start and make progress. Given your limited resources, your goal at this point is to build the MVP—your minimum viable product—to get user feedback and traction.
As explained before, consider hiring a few freelancers for a short period of time to develop the most basic tool your audience can use. You can also build a basic software tool with the help of a service like AppyPie or Shoutem.
While you build your MVP, ask for help. You can go out to events, get help in a relevant subreddit, or hire a coach through Clarity.fm. Also, reach out to people you think can help you—not a Gary Vee or Richard Branson, but someone who mentors entrepreneurs in your city or region.
If your value proposition is unique and the MVP you’ve created is truly useful, many of the people you contact will want to help you out. You may even get an investment offer, although that shouldn’t be your goal at this stage.
Your goal is to get others to help you. Maybe someone who helps you build your MVP will even become your next co-founder.
Or their help will come in the form of recommendations. Those people you contact may not be interested in working with you or helping you with their time, but they’ll happily point you to the people who can.
Before you know it, you will end up with the co-founder you’ve been looking for.
Here’s How You Can Find a Cofounder
With these five roadmaps you’ve learned here, it’s time to get started.
First, look at your network. Open your LinkedIn and Facebook accounts and see if you can find someone that you trust and who supplements your skills.
If you can’t find anyone who fits that criteria, look for events in your city. Go out and start meeting people. Also, look for a startup speed dating event to meet as many potential cofounders as possible.
You will slowly build relationships that may end up helping you start your business.
While you look for your cofounder, consider outsourcing specific tasks that you can’t do but you clearly know the output you want—think your logo, your initial website look, a functional MVP, and so on.
Finally, remember to ask for help from mentors and other experts; those people may end up introducing you to potential cofounders.