A while ago, when I was co-working in a small French town for a couple a weeks, I started to think about finding a cofounder for my startup. It seemed like a daunting task at the time and now that I’ve almost finished the process I just wanted to share with you my findings about this adventure and how I found that finding someone that believes in you and your idea could actually be the best validation of your concept that you can get.
The decision of looking for a cofounder
Being a solo founder, things were, although steady, moving very slow. So many things to do and only 24 hours in a day. On top of that I was working towards preparing my company (and myself) for potential investment. Although being a solo-female-startup-founder is a great story, I quickly found a lot of reasons why single founders are less likely to get investment than founding teams. I realized quickly: I need to scale up if I ever want to reach my ambitions. Although I have seen very strong examples of single founders successfully growing their companies and getting investment, I decided I really wanted to share my adventure with someone who could help my company grow, but could also bring new insights, help me build a stronger company and just be a partner to share the fun (and the tears) with! So, the journey for finding a cofounder began!
See finding a cofounder as a validation of your concept
Finding someone to join my startup that was still completely bootstrapped and in this early phase seemed like a huge challenge. One comment on a startup forum stuck with me. It basically said that there are two reasons why you would potentially not find a cofounder. The first is that your concept sucks and people don’t see it happening. The second is that you as a founder are doing it wrong. If you cannot make people enthusiastic about your idea, how can you ever sell it to your customers. Well, that comment scared the shit out of me. What if my concept really sucked. Or what if I sucked and no-one would wanna work with me! Anyway, in a startup you don’t have that much time to think, so I drafted a job description and placed it on one of the larger websites for startups, founders and investors.
Finding the right guy (or girl)
First, let me put that I don’t think finding a cofounder for a startup is the same as hiring an employee. However, I do want to make the comparison. An average recruitment process or job interview for a graduate position takes a maximum of 8 hours (taking multiple rounds into account) and for more senior positions this is often less. Often, you get away with two or three interviews of 1 hour. I’ve come to seriously question this approach. How is it possible that when you have to hire a key person into your company you base your decision on only a couple of hours where a person obviously wants to show the best of him or herself. You’ll never get to see how they will behave, communicate or work in real life before you hire them. This can be an expensive decision. This article explains how the first 10 employees of a company can make or break your company in its early phase. So how do you decide whether you’ve found your match or not?
When a potential cofounder showed up, we had an inital Skype call. A good vibe and energy was apparent and afterwards, what we did at accessART was similar to the concept of running a pilot. Luckily my potential co-founder had some time on his hands and basically what we did, is lock ourselves (together with our intern who had just started and another guy who was helping us with setting up a project) in a project room for 1,5 week. (Thanks to Hotel Casa 400 for hosting us and your great meeting spaces!)
We talked through the concept, my experiences, I explained the choices I made, I got challenged (for the first time in ages) we reached agreement and mutual understanding and most importantly, saw whether we were on the same page or not. I think that in this time it was crucial not to get stuck in details but more about transferring the enthusiasm and getting in the right mode. I have to admit that I think there are few activities as intensive as knowledge sharing. After explaining what you did in the previous six months in 1,5 week I was really exhausted. However, it does seem necessary to me that you engage in this activity before you decide to engage with someone in a co-founder role.
The (administrative) challenge ahead
When my potential cofounder told me one day “this concept makes me lay awake at night from excitement”, I knew I had the right guy. Because, this is exactly what happened to me when I was at the start of taking the decision to quit my job and start a company. So yes, there we go!
“This concept makes me lay awake at night from excitement”
I do honestly think that when someone decides to fully devote him or herself to your idea and joins your company, this is the first major validation of your concept. Having friends, family and other people like your idea or being (moderately) excited about it is nice, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. The people who are going to make the difference are the ones who really believe in your concept and are willing to help you bring it to the next level.
So yes, I am super excited to have a co-founder on the team. Although a bit scary and strange to give part of your “baby” away, I could see the benefits of having team expansion within days and even hours. Finding a cofounder takes time, but you see straight away that so much work being done that you could never do by yourself, a new critical eye and things that I had given up on were taken up with new energy.
So now we are the point where we are talking equity division, file sharing, communication, project approach, task divisions and what else you come across when you onboard new people in your company. But it’s exciting and I’m more convinced than ever that accessART is going to be a success.
Ralf, welcome onboard and great to have you. It’s going to be a hell of a ride!
PS: we’re could use some help in finding a cofounder – this time a tech one! We’re looking for our future CTO. Know anyone who wants to rock the art-industry with technology and gets excited by building a smart, fast and beautiful art platform? Check this page.