In Search of the Right Co-Founder (Finding Ms. Right)

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By Karen Zeller (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0) This is the first in series of three advice articles with Mauria Finley, Founder and CEO of Citrus Lane, a social ecommerce company dedicated to new (and experienced) parents.

As a former eBay executive, Mauria Finley exudes the enthusiasm and passion you would expect of someone who has dedicated years to consumer ecommerce.

Her new Mountain View based company, Citrus Lane, has raised over a million dollars in angel and VC funding in a seed round led by Greylock Partners. Citrus Lane provides advice and curated, valuable, boutique quality gift boxes for families with babies from newborn to two years.

I visited Mauria at Citrus Lane’s newly refurbished home-cum-warehouse space in Mountain View. I wanted to learn about how she, already armed with a Bachelors and Masters from Stanford University in computer sciences put herself to work finding a technical co-founder.

Meeting “the One”: Use Your Network

I started my search by really working my network. I challenged myself to meet 100 new people in three months. This meant that I spent hours each day at local cafés meeting friends, former colleagues and former classmates. For each conversation, the goal was to get at least three more referrals to people to talk to.

Out of that process, I was able to come up with a group of fifteen potential technical co-founders. And then one of my investors, Ross Fubini at Mitch Kapor’s Fund suggested I talk to Claire Hough, one of the few female CTO’s out there, and a mother herself. He not only put me in touch with her, but Ross also put in a good word on my behalf as a founder as well as for the concept.

Screening Your “Dates”: The Art of Reference Checking

Regardless of how I found my potential technical co-founders, I made sure to do my due diligence on all of them. My most important and first screen is to test our chemistry. Claire and I had a number of intense conversations over multiple days. We also did detailed reference checking on each other.

I believe strongly in reference checking, both from the list the candidate gives you as well as informally through people in your network whose primary alliance is to you.. In my book, you aren’t done checking a reference until you have forced the person providing the reference can at least one development area for the candidate. This was really hard with Claire because the folks that have worked with her loved her so much but I kept trying and trying until I could discover at least one area of improvement. A reference isn’t complete until you can be sure people providing the reference are as objective and honest as they can be.

Making the Commitment: Is She the One?

Ultimately, there are two types of technical co-founders -- those who are leaders who can focus on hiring and growing a team and scaling a system, and those who are technically brilliant and can code anything in a weekend. Both are great technical co-founders. Claire is the rare combination of both: she is incredibly good at understanding technology but can also hire the right people to execute for our company. When I called up people who worked with her in the past, all the engineers would be excited to work with her again. All her references, as well as the people in my network who know her, love her as a leader and manager. That, combined with the fact that we really connected and that she is a mom who loved our concept and was excited about it, sealed the deal.

» Next article in series: Understanding Your Customer Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Karen Zeller is software professional, holding progressively responsible positions in technical communications, program and product management. Most recently she has been working in a 75% legal and administrative position at Stanford while raising a young child. She volunteers for non-profits including RailsBridge and Women 2.0. Karen holds degrees in Anthropology and Finance from UC Berkeley and a J.D. from Stanford University School of Law. Follow her on Twitter at @karenzeller8.