Have You Considered Co-Founding a Start-Up with Strangers?
I did. This is why I would do it again.
Okay here’s some context.
Like many others, I was inspired to maximise the time I gained during the first UK lockdown in April 2020. Therefore, while scrolling through LinkedIn, I came across a virtual founder’s weekend hosted by Foundervine and OneTech.
Before this weekend, I couldn’t confidently describe what a start-up was. But by the end of the program, I had adopted four co-founders and a start-up I could call my own. (Here’s the LinkedIn post I wrote at the time)
To put it bluntly… I launched a start-up with people I met over the internet.
It’s not as odd as it sounds.
Yes, the whole arrangement was very unconventional. Having 5 co-founders was a problem in itself…. but that’s a discussion for another post!
You’re probably familiar with the “how we met” story that is common amongst founders of well-known start-ups.
The partnership usually originates as peers at an ivy-league university or as colleagues at a large company, such as Google or McKinsey. Over time, they realise that they share a passion or idea, and before they know it, they’ve tied the knot as co-founders.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this storyline. But If we all had to follow this script, we’d be restricted by the quality of our network.
Many of us aren’t surrounded by entrepreneurial people.
Initiatives such as Y combinator’s co-founder matching platform and the founders weekend I attended, all exist to prevent people with a limited network from entering the start-up world on their own.
We’ve seen it with the increased popularity of online dating. Without the internet, our dating pool is restricted to the few people our friends introduce us to, or to whoever we bump into at the supermarket.
Likewise, if you haven’t worked at a prestigious company, or do not have existing relationships with entrepreneurial people — finding a stranger may be the best option.
Then again, I would’ve done things differently 💭.
“Co-founding a company is like a marriage”.
One of my former co-founders used to say this a lot, and although it sounds theatrical, it’s very true.
We spoke to each other every day: arranged our lives around our new-born company; distributed our funds to raise this child; and managed conflicts as respectfully as we could.
Surely, I should’ve known who I was making this commitment with?
Of course, if I had entered this ‘marriage’ with a friend, I would’ve known what to expect. With existing relationships, you’re already familiar with the person’s temperament, behaviour, strengths, and weaknesses.
Meanwhile, with strangers, I was having to learn all of this on the go.
Despite my lack of due diligence, I was fortunate that my set of strangers-turned-cofounders were lovely people.
Take your prospective co-founder on a date.
The way I met my co-founders and the fact they were strangers, was not the issue. We just should’ve taken the time to learn more about each other before committing to a company. I essentially married the first person to like my hinge profile.
There was no dating process and that is what I would do differently.
In the future, I would spend more time assessing how well we work together. This could be through inviting them to an arcade or an escape room. While we’re hanging out, I would ask myself:
- How well do we communicate?
- Do I like the way they approach problems?
- How do they handle failures? How do they react to stress?
Another way of assessing compatibility could be through working together on smaller side projects. It’s important to know each other well enough to trust each other’s opinions and judgments.
The dating process allows you to establish mutual respect.
No matter how uncomfortable, I should’ve had the hard discussions first:
- Are we all in alignment?
- Are we working on this for the right reasons?
- Do we have a similar goal and vision for this company?
Most importantly, after a couple of dates and working together, the biggest question I would’ve asked is — would I want to talk to this person every day? Do I even enjoy being around them?
Even though this is a professional relationship, as co-founders who interact daily, the quality of their companionship matters.
Finally, I would’ve considered the advice that also applies to romantic dating: No matter how much you want it to work, be ready to walk away when you spot any red flags 🚩. Be willing to accept that this might not be the right person for you.
Unfortunately, our love story did not have a happy ending. Within 18 months of meeting, we dissolved our company and went our separate ways.
…….“So the company she founded with strangers was short-lived?”
Yes. But there are many other factors to blame (hint: 5 co-founders and no prior experience).
Altogether, the one thing you should take from this is that co-founding a start-up with a stranger is worth considering! Just make sure that they’re no longer a stranger by the time you commit to working together 🤝.