I’ve been searching and searching for good advice on the subject and consistently come up empty. There’s plenty of advice on how to split up equity, qualities to look for in a co-founder, and even the occasional article on places to go to find entrepreneurs.
Why is there zero information on how to vet them?
The typical article seems to suggest a good conversation will do the trick, presumably because you’ve just dosed your co-founder with sodium pentathol and wired him to a lie detector.
While there’s no perfect answer for this, just as there’s no perfect first date, I’d like to suggest a few options.
(For the record: The perfect first date is always in black tie. Everyone looks good in a tux.)
Open Sources Projects
You might think that an open source project is only for vetting technical guys and gals, but I can’t think of a better way for an MBA to prove their worth than contributing to an open source project. It may be a niche market of engineers with a low price point and low feature expectations, but it’s still a market.
When it comes down to it, the principles of customer development are the same whether you’re getting paid for a product or not. There is always a price tag that’s associated with user adoption even in free products. For example, Facebook and LinkedIn require a significant investment of time to get your profile looking nice. That time is the purchase price, open source is the product, and every open source project should be searching for product / market fit.
A keen business person should be able to significantly contribute to even a purely technical product by talking to customers, defining the minimum viable product, figuring out when to pivot, developing a minimum viable strategy to popularize it, etc. A really savvy MBA will find a way to turn your open source side project into a business.
I admit that I’ve only started giving back to society with volunteer work recently with the BUILD entrepreneurship program. Now that I have, I can’t imagine not doing it.
Are your core goals and values aligned with your partner? Try ladling soup for a few hours with them and you’re sure to find out.
They can’t deal with the smelly homeless guy? How are they going to deal with a pissed off customer?
Admittedly, this may not work if you’re in a pure for profit business and you want to find someone that is as cutthroat in business as you are. Then again, are you really going to be able to trust someone like that enough to work effectively with them in close quarters for a couple years?
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities that don’t require a long term commitment. Pick something for a weekend and see if your co-founder is willing to lick stamps for 48 hours. If not, will they have what it takes to sell door to door or do manual data entry when the going gets tough?
There are some great events like Startup Weekend which throw a bunch of people into a room together and let them experience the joys and heartbreak of a startup in 48 hours. It’s a sleep deprived and coffee driven bonanza with moments of brilliance.
[Disclaimer: I’ve organized a Startup Weekend and spoken at others.]
Many people go to them to find co-founders and pitch their ideas. I think another idea is to try out your new co-founder. Take them to a Startup Weekend or other similar event such as Hacks and Hackers storytelling / hacking event and find out if you can really work with them.
You can join someone else’s project for a weekend and find out some very valuable information. Can your co-founder work in a larger group? Can they handle pressure?
Most importantly, can your co-founder work in a team towards a goal, even if they haven’t 100% committed to that goal?
Because there will be times when your co-founder is staring at an empty bank account while you’re scrapping around for angel funding.
Will your co-founder bail at the first sign of trouble or stick it out for the long run? If they can’t make it through 48 hours, you might want to keep looking.