DIY: Finding a Co-Founder

I hadn’t given much thought to the challenge of finding co-founders until Jessica Alter announced the education version of FounderDating, a partnership with Teach For America. We profiled the effort to match up interested and talented edupreneurs on Getting Smart last week and I called Jessica to learn more about what problem she was trying to solve.
Most high growth companies–94 percent according to a Marquette study–were founded by teams, whereas only 6 percent were founded by solo entrepreneurs. But Jessica says that, right after finding money and the big idea, locating the right people is a top barrier to startup success.
Jessica’s firm tries to locate high quality people with balanced skill sets and match them up with people working with similar interests and ideas. The key to successful matchmaking is to start looking early (not when you’re trying to raise money) and looking for someone with complementary skills but similar reasons for edupreneuring.
Alter didn’t set out to work on education but interest in education entrepreneurship continued to grow. She noticed that many of the edupreneurs had a Teach For America background so she made a few phone calls and found Chaula Gupta (TFA’s Managing Director of Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation) who supports entrepreneurial alums.
Turns out that finding the right co-founder is a big problem and a handful of people are working on it. CoFoundersLab is another matchmaking service. They suggest two important reasons for finding a co-founder. First, there’s a lot to do and it helps to have someone to share the load with. Second, a co-founder is a built in support system for the inevitable setbacks.
Former Google CIO turned entrepreneur Dr. Douglas Merrill echos Jessica’s advice: find someone unlike you, but make sure you “connect on deep issues.” He warns against siloing based on duties but not against socializing with your co-founder.
Patricio Robles of Econsultancy, suggests that non-technical founders should:

  • Know what you need and realize that “a single co-founder probably isn’t going to be able to solve all of your immediate needs (the potential to contribute as much as you would like them to long-term).”
  • Bring something to the table. Ok, you’re not a coder but “others will take you more seriously if they know you have some domain experience, if not expertise.”
  • Build relationships before you need them. “ Network and build industry relationships well before you start a company.”
  • Offer a salary. “ If you can offer your first employee a reasonable salary in combination with equity, you’ll have a much easier time attracting quality candidates.

CoFoundersLab published this great list of 10 recent articles about finding co-founders and/or building a great startup team.
1. Inc.: Want to Start a Business? First, Find a Partner
2. Entrepreneur: Hackathon Hiring: How to Scout for Coders with Confidence
3. Econsultancy: Five tips for Finding a Co-Founder
4. Inc.: Why I Have Sex with my Co-Founder?
5. Geekwire: How to find that special someone: Your co-founder
6. Forbes: The Perfect Match: Finding the Right Co-Founder
7. The Tech Entrepreneurship Blog: 5 Rules for Cofounder Heaven
8. OnStartups: Avoiding Founder Failure: 26 Quick Tips and Real Data
9. Mashable: 5 Key Talents of Successful Startup Founders
10. Inc.: 6 Ways to find a Technical Co-Founder
This blog first appeared on EdWeek.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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