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Finding Success in Dating and Co-Founders – The Layered Opportunity

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Finding the right co-founders and team members for a startup is critical. Not everyone out there is going to be a great fit even with the right technical or soft skills. The driving force of a startup is sometimes set both more implicitly and explicitly through its culture. Culture can be subtly enacted through actions, but also purposefully written in the company’s mission and values.

In my eyes and experience, building a successful team can mean augmenting yourself with others who may not see straight eye-to-eye, but that’s a good thing. If you have only agreements and “yes men”, then you may not ever venture out of your comfort zone for something more innovative.

However, finding the right team is tough. I was talking to an Atlanta entrepreneur who dives in and out of startups based largely on the capacity and tolerance for stress. After a startup, he’d jump off and go straight into development and consulting for firms like ad agencies. Then, he’ll grow weary of the rat race, and come up with an idea to then build. He was remarking about the traps he sees oftentimes where co-founders find each other after meeting each other once or twice, and then they struggle to make it work down the line wondering what happened. When he asked co-founders, they tended to have differing philosophies on how to grow the business. Of course, it’s hard to find out if your philosophies or personalities jibe well after only brief instances of meeting.

A psychologist by the name of Lara Honos-Webb wrote about romantic relationships and “Should You Stay or Should You Go?” by positing the 3 layers of people that can gauge the ability of couples to mesh. In startups and entrepreneurship, you’ve likely heard how co-founders are analogous to romantic couples, and even startups as a child given the level of attention and passion required to cultivate the startup to success. Heck, there’s even a “Founder Dating” site (www.founderdating.com)! Kinda makes sense to keep the theme going and share Webb’s view on the 3 layers and think about them from co-founders’ positions.
  • Superficial Side – In dating, this is the person’s overt personality and even physical appearance/ attractiveness. In startups, it’s still based on personalities, and should be less on attractiveness.
  • Daily Dose – In dating, this is the day-to-day and habitual behavior. In startups, this could be how one handles workflow or in some respects, communication.
  • Core Essence – In dating, this layer is what truly drives the person. This is the undercurrent of a person’s values that really drives the upper layers. In startups, this could be some of the risk tolerances and factors, the underlying reason/ passion for a startup, etc.

It’s my contention that much like in relationships, co-founders should have the same/ similar motivations down to the Core Essence layer. You want to know that the co-founder you’re thinking about partnering with is aligned with your values and how you want to build a business. The higher layers are important, but can be different and offer various perspectives as well as provide opportunities to continually push and play Devil’s advocate.

There’s yet another analogy of a startup but with horse racing – bet on the race (industry/ market), the horse (idea/ product/ service), or the jockey (team). I’ve always bet on the jockey, and find that the reason most startups fail (and maybe pivot) or succeed is down to the team. All the more reason why finding the right co-founders similar core essences.


What are your thoughts of co-founders and the startup team? How do you find the right co-founders today?

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