The Art of the WordPress Startup: Part 14

Finding a Co-Founder

This post is part 14 of a series on how to launch your startup on WordPress. Last time I talked about how the tax deadline of April 15th is fast approaching and strategies on how to handle it. Today’s post is about something many people wonder about. Do I need a co-founder, and if so, how do I find one?

Proof in the Pudding

First, let’s look at the top technology companies that were created in the United States over the last 40 years (roughly since Apple & Microsoft began), and see which ones were started by solo vs co-founders.

1975: Microsoft (Bill Gates, Paul Allen)
1976: Apple (Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Ronald Wayne)
1976: Computer Associates (Charles B. Wang, Russell Artzt)
1977: Oracle (Larry Ellison, Bob Miner, Ed Oates)
1982: Symantec (Gary Hendrix)
1982: Adobe (John Warnock, Charles Geschke)
1983: Intuit (Scott Cook, Tom Proulx)
1984: Dell (Michael Dell)
1994: Yahoo (Jerry Yang, David Filo)
1994: Amazon (Jeff Bezos)
1995: eBay (Pierre Omidyar)
1997: Priceline.com (Jay S. Walker)
1998: Google (Larry Page, Sergey Brin)
1998: PayPal (Elon Musk, Max Levchin, Peter Thiel, Luke Nosek, Ken Howery)
1998: VMware (Diane Greene, Mendel Rosenblum, Scott Devine, Edward Wang, Edouard Bugnion)
1999: Salesforce.com (Marc Benioff, Parker Harris, Dave Moellenhoff, Frank Dominguez)
2004: Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes)

So we have a few exceptions, but most were started by at least 2 co-founders, and several had many more than that, although the consensus among savvy startup folks is that having 4-5 co-founders isn’t necessarily better, as it creates more potential for infighting. Many argue 2 is superior to 3+ as well because it means the equity stakes are still fairly high for each. Anytime you add another founder there’s dilution and if you’re raising rounds of funding that dilution will get magnified. If you have 5 founding members and plan to raise capital you better have a large exit to make sure it was worth your while.

Statistics

We know that investors and accelerators are more likely to fund a startup with co-founders versus a solo founder. Fair? Maybe not, but they’re going based on what they’ve seen, and they have the best pulse on the startup scene. Paul Graham of Y-Combinator says that even when they fund solo founders the first thing they do is tell them to go out and find a co-founder. Their logic is that creating a startup is typically too much for one person to bear. Dave McClure of 500 Startups says the ultimate team is the hacker + hustler + designer combo. I tend to agree with that for the most part, as long as design is a large part of your startup’s requirements.

But is their any real data out there to support all of this? The Startup Genome project is attempting to do just that. They found the following when it comes to co-founders versus solo founders…

  • Solo founders take 3.6x longer to reach the scale stage compared to a founding team of two
  • Business-heavy founding teams are 6.2x more likely to successfully scale with sales driven startups than with product centric startups.
  • Technical-heavy founding teams are 3.3x more likely to successfully scale with product-centric startups.
  • Balanced teams with one technical founder and one business founder raise 30% more money, have 2.9x more user growth and are 19% less likely to scale prematurely than technical or business-heavy founding teams.

Now that last bullet point is definitely a solid argument for having a balanced pair of co-founders, one technical and one business savvy.

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How To Pick a Co-Founder

There are few things more important than this decision. It ranks up there along with what idea you choose, and some might argue is even more important since most startups end up pivoting anyways. Picking someone you can stand to be around for long hours is probably a must. In addition, you want someone who complements your skill set. Business guy partners with hacker and vice versa. That combination is far more lethal than two people with identical skill sets. Imagine if Apple was founded by two Wozniaks or two Jobs. It wouldn’t be what it is today, that’s for sure.

Be sure to pick someone for whom you have mutual respect. If you’re a hotshot coder and you pick a slacker, it’s not going to work out. You need to not only complement each other but be of similar caliber in your own discipline. So hotshot coder partners with hotshot sales/marketing guru and now we’re talking. Also make sure your motives are aligned. Does one of you want to save the world and the other wants to get rich? Not gonna work out so well.

Serendipity

Many of the famous co-founder pairs met serendipitously without knowing they’d end up forming a company and dominating the world. Bill Gates met Paul Allen while attending the private Lakeside School outside Seattle when they were literally just kids. Wozniak met Jobs when a friend told him he should meet this other fellow who also liked electronics and pulling pranks. Wozniak was in college at the time and Jobs still in high school. Others met while students in undergrad (Facebook) or graduate school (Google). But maybe you haven’t been that lucky thus far.

Where To Find One

Let’s say you haven’t met your co-founder serendipitously and you live in the middle of nowhere, don’t belong to any clubs, and aren’t in college. There is still hope. One idea is to move to an area where startups are being created at a fast pace, and to become part of the community. So if you live in the backwoods of Maine, consider moving to Boston. If you live in Eureka California, consider moving down to Silicon Valley. Your odds of finding the perfect co-founder in the middle of nowhere are probably low, so you may need to move. Nobody said it would be easy.

In addition to moving to an area with more activity, there are some companies/communities that have popped up in recent years that can make it easier than just running around the streets of Silicon Valley. There are now lots of technology incubators that put on meetups and networking, and even sites like FounderDating and CoFounders Lab that specialize in this sort of thing. Don’t forget Startup Weekends as well, although I suggest you attend one in a city known for its startup culture as they can be pretty weak-sauce when they’re in the middle of nowhere. There are also lots of conferences/events where like minded individuals may be, including TechCrunch Disrupt, TechWeek, and Technori Pitch. Even co-working spaces can be a decent option once you get to know the community there.

Now go find that co-founder that also loves WordPress!

Full Series — Click here to see all articles in this series.

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