Since shutting down startupSQUARE.com, I’ve found myself for the first time on the other side of the co-founder equation, getting recruited. While all of those offers have been very kind and very flattering, some have tended towards the bizarre.
Here are just a few tips on how to find a co-founder and things to avoid when trying to pitch someone. (Names redacted.)
Don’t Bullshit Me
Saying things like, “You’ll earn a salary, as soon as we close our funding round,” make me throw up slightly in my mouth. I know you think you’ll have funding in three months, “as soon as you finish the prototype.”
The most clever thing you can possibly say to me is, “I don’t know.”
Q: “When will you have funding secured?”
A: “I don’t know, I’m targeting a six month schedule.”
Q: “What will be your best channel for customer acquisition?”
A: “I don’t know. We’re testing a viral loop, direct sales, and affiliate marketing.”
Those are answers I respect, because you don’t know everything and neither do I. That’s why it’s a startup.
“I’m an idea guy”
I don’t really care if you’re an idea guy. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Why should I work on your idea instead of my idea?
Along the same lines, don’t try to convince me your idea is unique. It’s not.
If it is unique, it’s probably uniquely bad. Competition is a good thing. It means there actually might be a market for your idea.
Don’t Even Ask for an NDA
This just makes me laugh. If I can steal your idea by just hearing it, there is no defensible business model there.
[UPDATE: It is of course perfectly reasonable to ask for an NDA before giving away the super secret sauce. But starting a conversation with, “Just sign here” is simply unrealistic.
In a year and a half and hundreds of cusdev interviews, I’ve never heard of any success stories with this technique. It simply limits the number of people you can talk to.
As a corollary, cold call a VC and try and get them to sign an NDA before your first meeting. Then please email me with the number of meetings you manage to get. I’ll offer a bounty of $100 for every meeting you get from a cold call to a VC.
As another corollary, try to get a date with a girl and get her to sign an NDA before the date so she doesn’t tell anyone else your super secret pickup lines.]
If I’m going to take orders from someone else, I’d like to know that you can actually give clear orders. If you can’t describe how we’d work together, maybe you should join my startup and I’ll be the CEO.
What have you done so far to start company? How many customers have you spoken to? Do you have a website up?
If you’re waiting for a technical co-founder to put up a landing page with signup form, you’re lazy.
If you’re waiting for a marketing guy to talk to customers, you’ll never understand the target market.
If you ask me to be a co-founder or even just a consultant, you’re essentially asking me to invest in your company with my time. As an investor, I will expect the same metrics an investor would get. Don’t tell me your metrics are a secret and please don’t tell me you have to “look them up.”
If you don’t know your metrics off the top of your head (at least the important ones), I don’t want you as my CEO. If you’re not willing to share them with me, then why would I invest in your company? Would you ever say to an investor, “I don’t trust you with my signup conversion rate?”
Don’t Make Up Words
(Seriously, you’d be surprised how often this comes up.)
Don’t Negotiate with Me
I’m sure that there are a lot of people who will disagree with me on this because it’s largely a question of the corporate culture.
I want to work with someone who has faith in me and values my contribution. If you’re negotiating my equity percentage by nickels and dimes, I probably don’t want to work with you.
If you offer me 1% of the equity, I’ll do 1% of the work. If you offer me 25% percent, I’ll do 25%. If you offer me 60%, I’ll insist on only taking 25% and I’ll work 24/7 for you. That’s my philosophy of finding the perfect co-founder!