It’s not easy starting and running a company; it’s a roller coaster of stress, emotions, risks, lows, highs and a lot of work. In order to manage a team, build something from the ground up and trump the competition, co-founders must hold different perspectives, skill sets, and strengths. It’s this combination that fosters great potential.
In May 2010, a large group in the Tel Aviv start-up scene – including investors, mentors, and founders – met for Seedcamp Tel Aviv, a well-known start-up competition. On the agenda, were a slew of pitches; I was still in my investing days then and listened to the presentations. It was one pitch after the next, and as you can imagine, there were some interesting ideas and some not so interesting.
It was typical then that one entrepreneur stood out – but for all the wrong reasons. He got up, announced that his start-up was called “gpgpustream”, and delved into a long-winded technical speech that none of us could follow. It took one sentence for us to shut down and start fidgeting with our smartphones.
Afterwards, at one of the mentorship sessions between the investors and the founders, a few others and I advised this man, named Kostya, that he should find a business-oriented CEO to help articulate his ideas. Later in one of the breaks, Kostya approached me and asked me to help him find a co-founder. I respected him for coming forward, despite receiving a resounding NO from an intimidating crowd and pitching for the first time, he remained focused and fearless.
I’d had some failed experiences with GPGPU in the past and decided to start listening more attentively to Kostya. I was intrigued, the mathematics behind his discovery was compelling – but his business model was rubbish; he wanted to share and spread his unique algorithms. (In algo-trading, a unique algorithm works because it hasn’t been replicated yet; meaning it’s imprudent to share it on demand.)
I told Kostya, that if he wanted to pursue his business model, then I wish him well but I’m not interested. However, if he wanted to partner up and mould his algorithms into a big data company, then I was eager to help.
It’s clear then that Kostya and I match the qualities I mentioned earlier – we’re different on every level, yet still manage to work in harmony and focus on our shared goals. Similarly, in recruiting for a world-class team, we did not search and employ individuals that mirrored us, on the contrary, we looked for a diverse group of people with various histories, approaches, skillsets, and so on.
That said, here are a few other things I’ve learned along the way that might help you in your search for a co-founder.
Network and spread value. In the end, you will probably meet your co-founder at an industry event, so get involved in local business organisations, university activities (professors are itching to launch start-ups), conferences, pitch fests, and any other start-up events you hear about. Join online groups and forums, like LinkedIn, too. There are a multitude of matchmaking groups on the Internet. But it’s not that uncommon to meet prospective co-founders at other group activities, like rock-climbing, ultimate Frisbee, gaming festivals, or Lego events. Make sure you’re building your network, these are your matchmakers so leverage off their relationships.
Keep an open mind. I wasn’t looking for a co-founder – I wasn’t looking to be a founder at all at that time. I could have embarked on various paths that were intriguing to me. But after a few weeks of discussion and investigation, I recognised that this was an opportunity that may never come by again and that Kostya and I had to dive in and do it.
Acknowledge your weaknesses and deal with them. It’s important to recognise your strengths (is it programming, business development, sales, or marketing?), but it’s as important to point out and understand your weaknesses (inexperience, personal skills, communication skills, management…). Be humble. This weakness will be your co-founder’s talent or where you’ll make your biggest personal breakthroughs.
Don’t rely on pure luck. I don’t believe in luck alone. I believe luck presents itself when you work a lot and work hard. After all, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
Be fearless but be smart. Don’t let a once in a lifetime opportunity slip away from you. If your due diligence and thorough investigation has a positive result, have courage and take the initiative. You won’t regret it.