By Elizabeth Knopf (Co-Founder & CEO, Sorced) After quitting my job and starting Sorced, I spent a few months validating my business concept by creating the product mockups and doing customer development. However, I needed to actually build it!
I first spent time trying to build it myself leveraging open source tools, applying my skills from a single CS class, and trying to be an autodidactic coder. My delusions of coding grandeur quickly subsided and realized that I was not going to hack it. Consequently, I either needed a tech co-founder or to pay someone to develop the product.
Being a resource-constrained entrepreneur, I wanted a co-founder because even if I got a paid engineer or an outsourced team to build it, I would still need to build a team, and there would be continuous development needs. After interviewing and budgeting it out with a few firms and getting feedback from people who had both good and bad experiences, I decided outsourcing was my last resort.
Thus, I embarked on the journey to find a technical co-founder. It’s the same process as sales and dating, and I know how to do both, well, at least sales… So, how hard can this be?
Scoring Founder "Dates" On My Own Target Segmentation: First, I figured out my story -- why am I and Sorced attractive? Then, what’s missing -- clearly an engineer -- and why do I want a partner? Then, I needed to determine who is the right match for me. What are my ideal match’s skill sets, background, age, geography, work style, level of commitment, compensation requirements, friend vs. new acquaintance, etc…? Given those criteria, where are the watering holes to find these engineers? Just like you’d go to the Mission in San Francisco to find a hipster, you need to identify where these people are hanging out both online and offline.
Lead Gen: I utilized my friends, professional contacts, and Harvard networks by sending out emails to list serves, reaching out to people, and getting referrals. I navigated LinkedIn to meet with people and get intros. I reached out to people on Quora who were discussing relevant topics. I attended engineering-focused Meetups and networking events. Just like the low conversion rate from going to bars (unless it’s for that one night interaction), this is the same for finding a co-founder. A warm intro from a friend or participating in events and communities that specifically frame "finding a co-founder" (not just "startup happy hour"), you will -- and I did -- have better results.
Qualification: After getting quite a few leads, I assessed from first glance if I got that initial flutter of excitement about the person, and then I further qualified them. I had a number of people that were very interested but were not quite what I was looking for based on geography (long distance is tough), level of commitment (it’s all about timing, so would they be ready to be monogamous, quit their job, and tie the knot with you ), or background (someone that compliments you).
Opportunity Management: Now that I had a few people of interest, the courtship began.
Pitching: You have to open the kimono both on your background, skills, and vision. You are selling yourself and your idea. So, open up about why 1) you would be awesome to work with, 2) this is a kick ass idea, and 3) the two of you would be great together! Being cagey or thinking someone is going to steal your idea gets you nowhere. You need to build a foundation of trust for the relationship to work.
Dating/ Working: I started courting engineers, meeting with them 1-2 times per week to get to resolution as fast as possible
Chemistry: Founding a company is a marriage. You need to make sure you are going to work well together, can communicate, balance one another, and bring out the best in the other person. This is more intuitive. After a few "dates", do you click and does it feel right?
Tech Assessment: If I were going to hop into bed with someone, I’d want to assess that they could perform well. I have a limited technical knowledge base, so I have a few advisors that were willing to do technical interviews. However, before even tapping my advisor resources, I was able to determine people were not right based on some of the following red flags:
- Using an antiquated or esoteric language: They’ve either not expanded their skills or are not learning new things. Additionally, if you want to hire more engineers, how hard will it be to find people using this language.
- Need to hire others: This communicates they might not be as good as you want or just can’t hack it and solve the initial problem. Thus, this is not the right co-founder for you. You might as well hire an outsourced team.
- "I’m overqualified": This might be the case, especially since the first product is technically simple. However, this shows that they have not bought into the vision and you.
Closing The Deal: Well, I didn’t. After a few months of this process, I had some highly promising suitors, but no one was perfect. So, why settle and get into something that would result in a suboptimal partnership or possibility of a divorce.
The Magic Happened at FounderDating! I applied to FounderDating because there was nothing to lose -- it was just intuitively obvious. After applying, I ended up fitting their bill for the following reasons:
- Qualified: I had a quality background. I was looking for a rock star co-founder and thus must be one too. They do an excellent job assessing backgrounds and ensuring that the people attending have a proven track record in their previous roles. I was highly impressed with the caliber of individuals.
- References: My references checked out. The application requires several references, who they actually reach out to and assess your credibility as a candidate. I chose a former boss who is very successful and thus credible himself and a colleague from a previous startup.
- Timing: I was working full time starting a company. They want people who are ready to take the leap and thus who already are or want to do this full time.
- Idea: I had an idea on which I was already working. While it is not required to have an idea, if you are a business person, you should have something you are excited about. Even though the idea and concept will change, and the important pieces is finding a co-founder versus an idea, having ideas show that you are actively thinking about and thus committed to doing something new. This also qualifies the relevant people with whom to be paired.
Once I applied and my references checked out, the head of the San Francisco / Bay Area chapter at FounderDating, contacted me to have a 15 minute video-Skype interview to further determine if there might be other people in the pool that would be prospective fits.
I was able to articulate and address all of her questions. At this point, she was assessing if there were other people in the pool of candidates who would be good matches. She alluded to a few different backgrounds of people who she had spoken to (one of whom turned out to be my co-founder) and get my feedback on if that was the type of person I was seeking. I received an invitation to attend the event.
At the FounderDating event, emphasis was put on pitching yourself and NOT the idea. This was actually a great piece of advice, because ideas change and evolve in the early stages of the startup, it’s about the other person not the idea as much. Of course, we all snuck in a little bit about what we are excited about and the degree we are open to exploring other ideas. However, most of us did pitch our backgrounds and stories. Every conversation that I had was very high quality. I was impressed by each individual I met; each person was relevant to my prerequisites.
I met about 2-3 other people with whom were worth following up and with whom I “jived”. One of them became my co-founder. I knew right away that he was someone with whom I wanted to work. We had comparable energy levels and great chemistry during our first conversation. Each of us had mutual areas of interest, complimentary backgrounds, and compatible work styles. We just ‘got’ each other and the concepts we wanted to pursue. This was the ‘one’!
Then, FounderDating had us split our group up into two and have the teams come up with a quick pitch to the other team. So, we chose a business concept, established the pain point, discussed the solution, identified monetization and customer acquisition strategies, and assessed market opportunity. Through this process, it gave us a sample of how the group works together and different people engage. Personalities and communication styles became very clear within minutes.
After the group exercise, we were free to network some more and meet people outside of our group. I met about 2-3 other people with whom were worth following up and with whom I "jived". Everyone I met was fairly interesting, and even though only one person became my co-founder, I made some very high quality connections.
After the event, the FounderDating team offered a great network and way to stay in touch. They have created the online FounderDating online network, where our profiles were automatically created from our applications, and then we can connect with people who we met or want to meet in the broader FounderDating community. They are building more functionality into the site, a great community resource!
I followed up with a few people having additional conversations about the business concept, and we continued pitching each other. It became very clear that the guy who I clicked with initially in my group and who the matchmaker also had in mind for me was the right fit. We did due diligence on one another through resumes, reference checks, technical interviews, and spending time together (basically reviewing the items offered in the FounderDating application).
Before sealing the deal, we spent some time working with each other, and the engagement quickly turned into a co-founder partnership! FounderDating successfully made me a match with my co-founder.
I had spent months trying to find and qualify people and did so within one evening at FounderDating. They did all of the lead gen and qualification for me to create a large pool of highly qualified prospective co-founders -- all I had to do was close the deal. They have a large network, quality qualification process, and efficient way to interact with prospective co-founders. Hence, they are building a marketplace of hackers and hustlers to come together to form companies in a much more resourceful manner than haphazardly trying to find your co-founder on your own. I highly recommend FounderDating to anyone looking for a co-founder.
Apply for FounderDating
FounderDating brings together super talented, handpicked entrepreneurs with different backgrounds and skill sets who want to start companies. We help them find the right match by making our resources available to them, including invitation-only events, detailed online profiles, and more. What differentiates FounderDating is the quality of our members: they excel at what they do, are passionate about innovation, and are committed to starting a new company in the very short-term.
The next Bay Area event is on August 23rd. Apply here for FounderDating!
Sorced is an online showroom enabling brand manufacturers and small retailers to better discover and transact with one another. If you are a retailer looking to discover new products to sell or improve your merchandising and vendor management efficiency, or if you are brand looking to increase sales and distribution or improve your sales, order management, and inventory process, check out www.sorced.com.
About the guest blogger: Elizabeth Knopf is Co-Founder of Sorced. Prior to Sorced, Elizabeth worked in business development at SecondMarket. Prior to that, she worked in venture capital at OpenView Venture Partners. She has consulted for a number of startups in the mobile, Saas, and consumer health spaces. Elizabeth holds a degree in Economics from Harvard College during which time she did her first successfully exited startup, DormAid. Follow her on Twitter at @eknopf2.