Stop creepy cofounder ‘dating’ and start convincing someone you are awesome enough to work with

I had a phone call a couple weeks back with someone who was looking for a cofounder (not an uncommon thing, right?) I asked what he’s been doing to find a cofounder and his response nearly made me spit out my coffee.

“I posted a few ads on job sites,” he said. “Then I’m interviewing the people who reply to see if they’d be a good cofounder.”

What? Are you serious? Like seriously serious? WTF?

Please Stop Being Creepy
Listen, let me explain this to you quite simply: you don’t hire a cofounder. You convince someone awesome that you are worth working on something together. Key word “convince.” Not key words like “connive”, “surprise”, “manipulate”, or “hire”. None of those words.

You don’t go to the “cofounder store” and pick up a lovely Rubyist, with a side of adaptive design. You don’t stand on the street corner on Wall Street and yell, “Anyone good with metrics, data and financial instruments?”

Let’s start here: Don’t be creepy. You know what creepy is… it’s doing things like posting ads on job sites, then sneakily hope you can convince someone to be a cofounder when they apply for a non-existent job in your non-existent startup. Turns out a relationship built on lies… yeah, those usually don’t turn out well. Rule #1: Stop being the skeezy, creepy dude at the bar.

Once that’s out of the way (which should be a basic test, but obviously it wasn’t), I want you to reimagine how you find a cofounder: Pretend you are single and are hoping to find the love of your life. Remember how that goes? You meet lots of frogs to find a prince or princess charming. You talk to friends, you may go on, you go out to bars or church. You are looking for things in common. You want to have great conversation, enjoy the same things, be on the same page with stuff, and generally dig each other.

You don’t walk into a bar and yell, “Hey, who wants to get married.” Well, unless you are super f-ing creepy, then maybe you do.

How to Convince Someone You Are Awesome
Here’s three things to try to show someone you are worth working on something with:

  1. Work on a short-term, test project together. Go to a Startup Weekend with someone, attend a Hackathon, or just work on something simple for a week (hell, try to build a desk together… I don’t really care.) Just actually try out working together.
  2. Attend a bunch of meetings together. A good working dynamic is crucial – and there is no better way to test that than to attend a meeting together with someone outside the “team.” If you guys ‘crush it’, then that’s a good first step… then do 10 more.
  3. Collaborate on something for several weeks. Co-write a series of blog posts, work on some code together, build a simple website or co-consult with a prospect. You’ll learn a ton about how you communicate – and treat both sides with the respect that you’d want to receive.

Remember, each of these activities above is a “date” with the goal of finding someone worth getting hitched to… and it may take a lot of dates or maybe a few. But remember how hard you worked to impress a gal or a guy when you were interested in them – do the same with cofounder candidates.

Every meeting, every lunch, every conference is a place you might meet someone worth spending more time with… and that time may eventually lead to a cofounder. Remember, each meeting is a potential cofounder interview: they are interviewing you for your awesomeness quotient and you are doing the same.

Lastly, please please please stop asking me if you know of a cofounder you should meet. A cofounder is NOT a mail order bride. It’s work and you should plan to spend some time finding someone amazing. If you rush it and try and force the issue, something will break… probably one of you and ultimately the company.

If this doesn’t seem to make sense, do me a favor and watch 40 Year Old Virgin. Don’t be the guy in the first half of the movie please…

Post script (from a Twitter discussion with my good friend Tony Wright):

Step 1 in the “How to Convince Someone You are Awesome” is to actually BE demonstrably awesome… that means you don’t just show off, talk a big game, highlight what was done in the past or point people to your amazing LinkedIn profile. Like actually be awesome in context… and show while working on something together to a potential cofounder.


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