Getting Ready to Sail? Find other Pirates!

piratesNow that you’ve uncovered your entrepreneurial streak, and figured out your passion, getting the initial team is the next step to turn your vision into reality. This will be the person/group of people crazy enough to join hands, close their eyes and jump into it with you. Finding co-founders is where most entrepreneurs give up. Really how does one locate passionate, talented individuals willing to give up their salaries to chase your dream? Should you find someone just like yourself, or go for someone exactly the opposite? Should co-founding teams have a sales background, product management or only technical?

It’s worthwhile to think about the founding teams at the top tech “startups” worldwide. Google had Sergei& Larry, Yahoo was founded by Jerry Yang and David Filo, Bill and Steve started Microsoft, Intel by Moore and Noyce, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger started Instagram and finally Airbnb by Brian, Nathan and Joe. It is no coincidence that each of them had multiple founders.  Clearly it takes more than a pair of hands to create a company. In fact, studies have shown that on an average startups have 2.07 founders! Note that there are always exceptions – Jeff Bezos did a solo act with Amazon and Pierre Omidyar founded eBay by himself. However, given this is going to be a 5-7 year journey, sprinting alone can wear one down quickly. So who should you seek in your co-conspirator? Since matches are made in heaven  you might not really have a vast choice. There are some guidelines that you could follow based on your industry and how you’re planning to disrupt it.

While it’s commonly accepted wisdom that one should bring tech in-house before all else, often  that oversimplifies the task. Ask yourself, – “what is the hard thing you’re trying to solve? Do I personally have competence for it? All tech startups by definition will require someone who can code, however what will really create value in your business in the long-term? If you’re starting an apparel ecommerce business, having someone with merchandising or supply chain experience might be the differentiator in this crowded market.Enterprise software startups will need founders who understand product before all else. Mobile startups require design skills to even get off the ground, and surely to become successful. Creating this list of “must have” and “good to have” skills in your co-founder will help you focus your energy on the right recruitment platforms, as well as help you plan for areas where those skills are lacking.

Most importantly, finding the right “fit” with your co-founder is the biggest determinant of a successful relationship, and a minimum requirement of building a successful business. Why does fit matter? I recently met 2 co-founders at an enterprise startup – both extremely talented with deep domain expertise. After 4+ years together, the company needed to make some tough decisions and the founders have been unable to have a frank discussion about the right path forward for the past 6 months! It’s important to have co-founders with whom you can enjoy a beer when things are good, as well as have an honest conversation when the tough times roll in. One trick I’ve learnt – discussing not just successes but also failures and lessons learnt will help you understand how individuals react to adversity, which is really when fit becomes critical.

Where to find your co-founders depends on what level and sector you’re looking for. Resources such as HeadStart’s Co-founder Search Program can be quite effective in connecting with a group of self-selected, potential co-founders. Also, investors can be a source of candidates, but only if you have a good sense of what profiles you’re seeking. Most investors actively meet many potential entrepreneurs, but will not have a good sense of the right person for your idea. So having your own filters on the ideal person will make this an easier process. Also be creative.  The best co-founders might not be looking to join you so getting to them will require more than just going to networking events (hint: get a LinkedIn Premium account!).

Lastly, remember that this is a fairly long journey so if you can’t have fun with the person alongside you, either of you will eventually part ways. While it’s useful to have all the skills in-house, those can often be hired in. Having a great founding team will give you a solid foundation to build a successful business.


Nishant Verman

Nishant Verman

Nishant Verman has 8+ years of operational, finance and entrepreneurial experience across Asia and the US. Prior to Canaan, Nishant was co-founder at Groovebug, a personalized music platform for the iPad. Nishant was part of team since inception and focused on multiple aspects including product development, venture funding and launch. Previously at Microsoft, Nishant was a Senior Business Development Manager for the APAC Online business. Nishant focused on strategic partnerships across India and China, including Microsoft’s partnership and investment in Affle, a mobile ad platform. Nishant can be reached at nverman@canaan.com.