@andrewchen

Get the newsletter · 2018 essays (PDF) · Featured · Recent

How do you find a badass co-founder?

Finding a co-founder is damn hard
In the last couple months, I’ve been keeping an open eye out on finding a high-quality co-founder for the startup I’m doing as part of my EIR gig. Ultimately, the scarcest commodity in the entrepreneurial community is NOT venture capital money – there are billions out there – but rather very high quality people. In particular, the highest quality people out there turn into co-founders, so that’s incredibly important.

In particular, a co-founder’s able to help balance you out, especially on mood. So if you are both in a room, the startup is on the rocks, and you say, “god we’re fucked!” then sometimes your co-founder will say, “well, why don’t we do X.” The same will happen vice-versa, which is great.

How many co-founders?
2-3 founders maximum. I think once you get beyond that, you’re diluting the group of talent in place. Ultimately, there’s a huge distinction between founders and employees, and you have to choose carefully. Beyond 3, the equity structure gets messed up too – you take a round or two of VC money and you own a very small piece of the company.

Of course there are exceptions like VMWare, which had 6 co-founders that all did well. But the norm seems closer to 2-3.

What defines a good co-founder?
Short answer is, I have no idea :)

Long answer is, I’ve done a lot of talking and thinking about the issue, and I think I know what is good for me (and maybe me only). Ultimately, you are looking for a guy with the following:

Complimentary in skills, but from the same cloth in attitude and culture

On the skills front, because I’m more of a business-y person, I’m looking for someone who is very technical. Also, because I’m more of an unstructured creative thinker, it might be useful to meet someone who is more structured and detail-oriented. A big piece of this is also a Mr. Inside versus Mr. Outside designation. Who’s in charge of talking to customers, partners, and potential investors? That might be one guy, whereas the other is more focused on internal operations. This might hold true even as the company scales up.

The other side, which is about attitude and values, is much more difficult. If you are looking to found a company, and you have an idea that you’re driving, that says a lot of things about you already. You’re probably driven, have a vision for where you want things to go, and are self-motivated enough to get things off the ground. You may also be someone who can convince people to follow you, or give you money, or whatever.

My questions for values/culture
For me, I’ve been thinking about a series of questions related to culture and values. Here are a selection of them:

  • Let’s say you wanted to start a new company? How would you do that?
  • Tell me about a major disagreement you had recently – describe what happened?
  • How would you approach hiring people?
  • What’s your long-term goal with your career? Where do you want to be in 20 yrs?
  • … and etc. Lots of questions you’d ask an employee, of course.

I think you’d also ask a couple questions as you observe the guy:

  • If you put them in a room with 5 peers, would they emerge with the 5 guys signed up to follow them?
  • Would you feel comfortable introducing them to everyone you know?
  • If you say something they disagree with, how long does it take before they push back? How hard do they push back?
  • If you guys disagree on their side of the complimentary skills, what happens? What happens if it’s on your side of the domain expertise?

Peoples’ views on this are going to be different, but in general I’m going to be looking for the guy who can sign up the 5 guys in a room, who’s great to introduce to everyone at all levels, who pushes back hard and immediately, and doesn’t care if its on your side of the skillset or theirs. I think all of these things define a strong leader who’s a peer, rather than an employee.

I’ll write more on this topic later, as it’s a critical one, but would appreciate comments in the meantime.

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.

Views expressed in “content” (including posts, podcasts, videos) linked on this website or posted in social media and other platforms (collectively, “content distribution outlets”) are my own and are not the views of AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) or its respective affiliates. AH Capital Management is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any special skill or training. The posts are not directed to any investors or potential investors, and do not constitute an offer to sell -- or a solicitation of an offer to buy -- any securities, and may not be used or relied upon in evaluating the merits of any investment.

The content should not be construed as or relied upon in any manner as investment, legal, tax, or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any charts provided here are for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, I have not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. The content speaks only as of the date indicated.

Under no circumstances should any posts or other information provided on this website -- or on associated content distribution outlets -- be construed as an offer soliciting the purchase or sale of any security or interest in any pooled investment vehicle sponsored, discussed, or mentioned by a16z personnel. Nor should it be construed as an offer to provide investment advisory services; an offer to invest in an a16z-managed pooled investment vehicle will be made separately and only by means of the confidential offering documents of the specific pooled investment vehicles -- which should be read in their entirety, and only to those who, among other requirements, meet certain qualifications under federal securities laws. Such investors, defined as accredited investors and qualified purchasers, are generally deemed capable of evaluating the merits and risks of prospective investments and financial matters. There can be no assurances that a16z’s investment objectives will be achieved or investment strategies will be successful. Any investment in a vehicle managed by a16z involves a high degree of risk including the risk that the entire amount invested is lost. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by a16z is available at https://a16z.com/investments/. Excluded from this list are investments for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly as well as unannounced investments in publicly traded digital assets. Past results of Andreessen Horowitz’s investments, pooled investment vehicles, or investment strategies are not necessarily indicative of future results. Please see https://a16z.com/disclosures for additional important information.