I Can Has Co-Founder: A Tale Of Cheezburgers And K-Pop Stars

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“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one." - C.S. Lewis By Joyce Kim (Co-Founder, Simple Honey)

I first met Eric in Tokyo (where Eric was living) on the inaugural Geeks on A Plane trip over two years ago.

We quickly connected on our shared entrepreneurial history – both of us had co-founded passionate community sites that were not born from a business plan. They developed from a personal interest on a random topic that just exploded: lolcats for Eric and K-pop for me.

We both had experienced growing pains from trying to monetize fast-growing sites that were initially passion projects. Pleas from users to turn off ads and asking “why are you trying to make money off us?” would be answered with explanations of mounting server bills in the thousands of dollars a month – but it would fall on deaf ears as users would send me links to $9.99/mo web hosting offers asking, why not just use that? What the @$*#!

Our friendship grew out of our ability to commiserate over these issues, sharing product ideas and discussing the human aspects of community development. Eric had already sold Icanhascheezburger but I was still working on Soompi. Then came the day when Soompi was acquired and I decided to start looking for a co-founder for the “next big idea.”

After brainstorming with Eric about folks who might be good co-founder material for me, I realized I had been talking to the right person all along. But, since this wasn’t our first time around the block, we knew there were things that needed to be discussed before we could decide if it was the right match.

Eric flew up to San Francisco (he had moved to Los Angeles by then) and we parked it in a conference room for several hours. What we discussed that day has become the backbone of our company’s values and culture. It educates our daily decisions and guides our company.

Questions We Asked Each Other:

  • Why do you want do even want to do a startup? What drives you to do the startup game?
  • What would success mean to you with this next company? What do you want to achieve?
  • What would failure mean to you?
  • What were the best things about your last company?
  • What were the biggest mistakes you made with your last company?
  • What support networks did you use to get through the last startup experience? When did you feel alone?
  • What would you want to do differently with this company?
  • What kind of company culture and values do you want your next company to have?
  • How do you communicate? What leadership style do you have?
  • Who are the kind of people you want to work with and surround yourself with?
  • How do you behave when you get mad? How do you argue?

The end result of that conversation was a real and personal understanding of what made each of us get up in the morning and want to create and build. We learned that we had similar goals for ourselves and vision for our future company.

Before we ever started working together, we were already on the road to building a “value-driven startup” – even before the term existed. I recommend checking out this great presentation by Dave Kashen to learn more about value-driven startups.

The Most Useful Question?

In the short few months of our company’s life so far, the most useful topic we discussed that day is last on the list. How do you behave when you get mad? How do you argue?

Startups are hard. And if you think you are not going to get mad or argue with your co-founder, you are incredibly naive. Figuring out how to communicate effectively and respectfully is crucial. Learning how to get over disagreements and laugh at the end of the day is a necessary skill.

Since we had been friends and never previously argued, we had never seen each other mad. I told Eric I get deathly silent when truly angry. And for those of you who know me in person, you know that encountering a “Silent Joyce” is a rare and perplexing event. This has come incredibly handy since Eric knows that we can have an intense team debate about something, but if I’m still talking, then it is still all good.

When Did We Discuss Product?

One thing you may have noticed is that none of the questions address “the product” at all. Why not? Because obviously, we are building a site for photos of Korean pop stars with their cats. Actually, no. It’s because we didn’t know what we were even going to build! That was not the first priority at the time because once you find the right team, anything is buildable and anything is possible.

(On a random side note, we both love the idea of connecting people on the internet and had kicked around the idea of online dating a bit. Since Eric is married, I was tasked with “market research” and I joined OKCupid – the datageek’s favorite dating site blog. I royally pissed off my first date when he asked “why are you on OKC?” and I replied without thinking, “User research.” I don’t recommend taking this route.)

The list of questions above is not an exhaustive list of everything that people considering founding a company together should discuss, but it’s a start. Also, these questions are important to discuss with all early employees and certainly everyone on the founding team. If you have any more questions that you think should be added to the list above or if you want to share any similar discussions you have had, please share them in the comments!

This was originally posted at Simple Honey's blog.

About the guest blogger: Joyce Kim is the Co-Founder and Honey Bee of Simple Honey. Prior to Simple Honey, Joyce co-founded Soompi in 2006 as a Korean pop site. Soompi's membership has grown to encompass all Asian entertainment, including Chinese and Japanese pop. Soompi was acquired by Enswers, a Korean media company, in January 2011. She has hosted the GigaOm show at Revision3 and worked as a lawyer at the firms Fortis, Wilmer Hale and Shearman & Sterling. Follow her on Twitter at @joyce.