By Bridget Thornton (Co-Founder & CEO, TrackIgnite) OK, so my co-founder and I aren't "in love" but we sure are one hell of a match. The other day I came across a lot of posts on Hacker News from single founders desperate to find their co-founder in time for the Y Combinator applications for winter class.
My co-founder and I chuckled at the desperate pleas that sounded like people desperate to find a husband or wife before it's too late to procreate. A co-founder is just like finding a domestic partner: You. Can't. Push. It. There must be shared interests, common goals and dreams and mutual respect in a marriage or a business partnership or the entire relationship will end badly and in a very expensive way.
What I Want In A Co-Founder: A Top 10 List
- Availability -- to make him/herself available at odd hours and willingness to sacrifice personal time.
- Humility -- someone who knows what they don't know and willing to admit it. Big egos suck the life out of a startup. No damn egos.
- Creativity -- someone who can work around what they don't know and find a viable solution, IE: someone who can duct tape a problem and make it work while finding the long-term solution.
- Frugality --someone who is as cheap as me. A person who readily finds an open-source solution rather than throwing money down the drain fancy software, office furniture. Someone who says "Even if we get $10M in funding we're getting office furniture from Free cycle."
- Perseverance -- someone who can live on Top Ramen (again), encounter really shitty days, get paid nothing, but shares my vision and do whatever it takes to make a kick ass product.
- Flexibility -- a person who can admit when features or other business issues aren't working and has no problem scrapping the idea and moving onto something better or different. If 50 hours are invested into something that doesn't work makes the person irate, that's not the co-founder for me. The dude needs to identify the parts that worked and move the hell on.
- Sense of Humor -- the person needs to laugh at stupid shit, at him/herself, and put me back in my place when I get too serious. I need someone with Beevis and Butthead humor. Sidenote: When we were kicking around logos, Scot sent me a pic of a match with the subject line, "Eh, eh fire" and a Beevis and Butthead YouTube video. Swoon.
- Patience -- someone who understands that I have kids and sometimes everything needs to be dropped to play the mommy role.
- Startup Experience -- someone who has seen the really bad side of startups, understands that things WILL go wrong, knows that money is the last thing that makes a startup successful and realizes that hiring a sales and marketing team is a total waste of money...as long as the product rocks.
- Stamina --someone who can work a day job, work just as many hours on a night job, and can still drink as much as wine as me and still code the next day.
Our startup came about out of personal need. I am a self-tracker and needed an application that would gather all my data into one dashboard. It didn't exist so I decided to build something myself. The problem was that I didn't have the deep technical background necessary to build the back-end. So I decided to go through all the people I've ever known at the startups where I've worked over the past 16 years and start pitching some of the engineers.
Before I approached anyone, I made a list of the qualities I wanted in a co-founder and this list was one of the most valuable actions I've taken in the process of starting this venture. Mind you, the list wasn't about the skills of my potential co-founder but the qualities this person needed to possess. I've known many talented engineers who were quite awful at taking risks, advice, constructive criticism or just plain egotistical but they could build brilliant applications. I didn't want someone like that. I wanted someone who had the capacity to learn and the drive to get shit done. I didn't need brilliance -- I needed someone with grit.
There was only one person who met every_single_quality. I had worked with him at 3 startups in the 90s and early 00s and over the years we became friends. I've shared beers with him and great conversations about all sorts of things from politics to the environment to The Giants. As luck or serendipity or planet alignment would have it, Scot jumped on the idea and within 24 hours laid out the entire back end of the application and even included a list of what he couldn't technically accomplish but how we could get around what we lacked in tech experience. In a way, it was love at first sight. I just knew he was the one.
Since being an entrepreneur in a tech startup is damn difficult and being a woman founder equally challenging, I want to share my list of qualities that I used to find my technical co-founder and hope it helps other entrepreneurs in their search for "the one". One word of note: I knew that someone could meet everything on my list but it was possible I just wasn't feeling it. That happened with one potential co-founder and when all was said and done, I went with my gut. Word of advice: always go with your gut. Always!!!
I was lucky, I knew Scot in a professional and friendly way for many years. Even if he declined my offer to be my co-founder, I would not settle for anyone who did not meet each point on this list. Remember, it is more about the person and less about the experience. A person who embodies all the above characteristics will spend extra time learning what he/she doesn't know. Your co-founder should also come back at you with a similar list.
The honeymoon phase does not last long in a startup -- so you better find someone who can tolerate your crankiness after 18 hours of work and shitty, if any, food in your belly. That's the true test of a perfect co-founder match. Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Bridget Thornton is co-founder and CEO of TrackIgnite, a dashboard for health and fitness applications. She has worked in new tech startups since 1995 and juggles both long start up hours and children. She's built TrackIgnite to make her life simpler and improve her physical and mental health. She blogs at TrackIgnite. Follow her on Twitter at @iammzbridget and her startup at @TrackIgnite.