(Image source: jewschool.com)
My buddy (and the great Developer) Don sent me this link from HackerNews where a user posted the following question:

Founders whose startups have failed, where did life take you afterwards? (link)
I’ll just cut to the chase today because I read a ton of the responses… almost too many. I got through about 80% of comments, and I think I’ve got enough content in my notes to cull some of the interesting stories and take-aways.

“Hacker News is a social news website that caters to programmers and entrepreneurs, delivering content related to computer science and entrepreneurship. It is run by Paul Graham’s investment fund and startup incubator, Y Combinator.”Wikipedia
So here’s the list. Though, note that this is from the first 33 posts as of 9:30AM this morning (11/12) (not including replies to comments here, just first-level comments).
  • 8 founders I would qualify went into full-time gigs with seemingly non-startup companies including many at Apple and Google
  • Many cited regaining confidence and stability as a for joining a full-time role at a non-startup company. One described the failure experience as “traumatic” to the extent he questioned his skills and capabilities. He needed a place to rebuild his confidence.
  • 8 founders went immediately into some consulting or contract work. Many cited reasons including having flexible hours to the extent that they worked half-time. The other “half-time” was spent on side projects
  • A couple of the founders made note of the incredible stress the startup life took on their personal lives to the extent that their relationships ended either in divorce or otherwise. Interestingly, one of them got back together with his then girlfriend and married after the startup’s initial failure
  • Several founders mentioned the people involved as a reason for the failure of their startups from co-founders to employees. On the flipside, there were a number of founders who mentioned they would or have start a new company with their former co-founder
  • Cultural insight – one founder in Germany mentioned how difficult it was to regain some stability after his startup’s failure. In German culture, much weight is put on success and respect, and from failing in a startup, it was hard for customers, colleagues, etc. to accept this reality or trust him
  • Cultural insight – one founder in India mentioned how he was buried in debt to the extent that all profits were made to pay down interest to his lenders. In India when borrowing for business, many borrow from friends and family (close and distant). This can dramatically raise the interest with the number of borrows
  • HackerNews has a very much technical-heavy audience, but at least two of the founders mentioned their complete lack of technical know-how in their startup. Following the demise of their startups, these founders learned how to program to build MVPs including one founding a new startup as a technical co-founder
  • In trying to decipher what people were explicitly and implicitly saying, at least 23 of the founders said they would start or had already started another company; 4 founders I couldn’t figure out if they would (categorized these as maybes); and the remaining 5 founders as most probably not interested in starting another.

There’s a lot more to glean from the comments and posts, especially when you look beyond the first-level comments. It’s interesting to read about others’ failures to hopefully avoid those missteps. However, as several readers mentioned, it’s hard to avoid even when you know them. Experience should help prevent you from making those same mistakes, but there are blogs and established publication articles about lessons from failure including my own – 21 Rough Lessons Learned from Failure. As user nostrademons mentions, “The nice thing about having knowledge and experience is that oftentimes it shortens the time required to realize you’re making a mistake.”
Okay, so I’ll leave you with a few direct quotes that I thought were important…

“Someone may be a good developer, designer, or co-worker…but that doesn’t mean they will make a good co-founder. I learned this the hard way..and it was painful” – paulhauggis

“All I can say is: Know your founders. I’d go far as to focus on their personal situation, like their risk tolerance, their “philosophy”, their personal attachments, etc. The goal for a company is not to save the world, but to make money for you and your partners. If any personal attachment can get in the way, like “saving the world”, or “keeping control of the company”, it will. My major failure was not seeing this.” – bigpeopleareold

“A startup is a ship at sea in a storm, I wanted to experience a boat in harbour for a while.” – buro9

“The nice thing about having knowledge and experience is that oftentimes it shortens the time required to realize you’re making a mistake.” – nostrademons

“Focus on one thing , become incredibly good at it. […] Focus on customers and trust yourself on giving value , customer insight is better than customer need.” – appreneur

So what are your thoughts on the lives after failures for these entrepreneurs and others? How do you think failure has changed their trajectories had they either not pursued their own startup(s) or had been successful?
(Source: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-AXHA7x-C7hU/UfafILrYVuI/AAAAAAABeQg/wsuaHqzoELs/s1600/team+up1.jpg)
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?