Would you ever consider marrying someone after the first date?
Since we are on the topic of Founder Sins (you can read my first one here) let’s talk about the second one real quick. Another very common thread I see fraying from the rookie founder sweater is how quickly they are considering whom to choose as their cofounders.
“I met this developer at a networking event and I think we’re going to build something together.”
“Do you know anyone who codes? Do you think they could help me with my idea?”
“The six of us started a company at a Startup Weekend!”
I hear these all the time. It’s not a bad idea that people are “hustlin” and looking for skilled people to build out their team. It’s just that it ain’t easy.
Just as dating the right person takes time for the relationship to develop into a marriage, so does a business partnership. I am not saying you need to “court” the person for years on end, but I am saying it takes more than one event, one week or a few short meetings to grant a random person a large stake in your future company, basically legally binding the both of you.
Here’s why I know. I have lost a cofounder myself.
In the fall of 2011 I was approached by an awesome developer – whom I didn’t know at the time – about joining the founding team of his newly forming startup. He read an article I had written, emailed me and said we should meet. When we met for coffee he showed me the prototype of the mobile ordering/payment stystem he was building and said he was looking for a CEO. I was impressed and intrigued. We booked another meeting or two and within 2 weeks we were talking “marriage”, better known as personal responsibilities, founder equity and company formation. Before I knew it I was CEO of a tech startup (Seconds) and diving into leading a founding team I did not know two weeks ago.
But unfortunately, 6 months after that initial meeting he was on a plane moving down to SF to do contract work, leaving me to find another CTO.
I am forever grateful for Jacques to have sought me out and single-handedly placing me on this path I am today. Yet, in hindsight it’s clear we jumped in too quickly. We were excited, thought time was of the essence and needed to get to work today! Within a week or two of knowing each other we were having the “how much percentage of the company do you get and how much do I get” conversation. I was immediately in charge of estimating product timelines, leading a team of developers, laying out our fundraising strategy, talking with the media and figuring out how we’ll make it to the next phase of the company.
All this and I didn’t even know who these people were!
I didn’t know how they handled stress (although I found out pretty quickly!) I didn’t know how they had performed in the past on other teams and projects. Did they run from challenges quickly or where they the ones to stick it out and find a solution? I was not aware of their tell-tale signs of when things weren’t going right. And I hadn’t learned how to best approach them to talk over difficult situations and touchy subjects.
In the end, I didn’t know them at all.
And now I know why investors ask about the backgrounds of the founders and how long they have known each other. It’s very important you take the time to get to know people you want to work with in the future. If you have a long view on your career – your entrepreneurial journey – you will see there’s decades of time for you to work on various projects and many different people you will work well with.
The thing is it’s very hard to determine that after one or two meetings.
Take it from me, it’s best to start laying the foundation for your future cofounder relationships now so that when the time comes for you to form your dream team you will already know who you will pick.
That, or get used to signing divorce papers…