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The world needs more co-founders

This is the second of a multi-part series authored by The Startup Collaborative co-founding team: The Death (or Evolution) of Startup Accelerators and Incubators as We Know Them!

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It’s fitting that my favorite band is Kings of Convenience. Two musicians. Two acoustic guitars. Two voices that sing as one. The duet is a work of art. How one voice compliments the other, identifying notes that strike a chord. The interplay. The duality. Two independent streams that when merged together, create something 10x better.

The duet––there is a strong parallel between two musicians making music together and two founders starting a company together.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and PayPal, believes that starting up is a team sport. I couldn’t agree more! Starting up usually takes at least two players.

When I worked in San Francisco, every startup I knew or interfaced with had multiple founders. Bigstep, the first startup I worked at, had five cofounders. And if you look at the most successful local startup players, they all have multiple cofounders. Flywheel, BuilderTrend, Hudl, Bulu Box, opendorse, the list goes on and on. Can you name one scaling startup with a single founder? Not an easy task.

For new concepts starting up in this ecosystem, more times than not it’s a single founder. An independent mind with a clever concept. However, without any partners, that founder is reliant on service-providers (in some capacity) to advance the position of the idea.

It takes both skills in-house (business and tech) to persevere. So if you’re a business-minded founder, start looking for a technical companion. And if you’re a technical wizard, start looking for a business-savvy individual.

Landing a co-founder

LEVEL 6 // Role Coverage comes right after LEVEL 5 // Pre-Validation where the concept has been validated in the market––which is the first big milestone that every startup must pass. The next essential milestone is to make sure you’ve got proper in-house role coverage. I totally get the challenge of finding a cofounder. Many years ago I had a concept and needed help to get it to market. Thankfully I found two people who were willing to join the team.

Here are a few tips to land that perfect co-founder:

  1. Get as much traction independently as possible. The better your success, the better the narrative, the easier it’ll be to recruit someone to join you. Also, you’ve brought down the potential co-founders risk.
  2. Prepare to give up a decent chunk of equity. The earlier your concept, the less cash you’re generating. Good chance it’ll be zero dollars for awhile. At this point the only thing you have to give up is equity. Don’t be stingy. Also, let recruits know that you’re interested in their skill and their ability to improve upon the idea.
  3. Tell anyone and everyone that you’re looking to partner up. Don’t be shy about socializing your concept and your traction. You’re in full-on sales mode now!

There are minor challenges associated with partnerships: internal squabbling, the occasional yield on an issue, having to concede a point to obtain consensus, the rare shouting match. But the benefit of these conflicts almost always results in a better solution. Call it healthy tension or friction. Without it, ideas run forward quickly and without compromise.

Speed without depth. Knee-jerk versus reasoned. Co-founders, when working together, will likely offer up a more balanced and comprehensive perspective. The yin and the yang. Each side making the other stronger. A broader perspective that results in fewer blind spots. That’s always a good thing, especially when you’re trying to get a new product to market on limited (or no) capital with your back(s) up against the wall.

Aligning a team and covering roles

There are 10-ish essential skills that every founding team within a software startup must possess: Strategy, Sales, Marketing, Finance, Operations, Support, Presentation-Layer, Application-Layer, Database, UX. Before you decide what type of co-founder to seek out, first identify your deficiencies. What aren’t you good at?

The best way to improve your odds of success is to align yourself with a fully capable team. And rarely have I ever seen or met someone who could do it all: create a marketing campaign, develop front-end interfaces, build out a database, track sales conversions, cold call, calculate microeconomics like LTV and CAC.

But partnership goes way deeper than just role coverage. All startups face extreme adversity, unyielding stress, and tremendous peaks and valleys. Partners provide accountability, camaraderie, support, and healthy internal competition. This isn’t a journey you want to embark on alone.

I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of brilliant and complimentary co-founders. MindMixer would never have scaled if I didn’t partner with Nick Bowden. He’s one of the best salespeople ever. Conversely, Nick needed someone to build the product and run the day-to-day operations of the company.

The same is true for The Startup Collaborative. I’m not an expert communicator or story teller or brand ambassador or community builder. Erica is!

Dual dependency. It’s actually a very very comfortable thing. It allows individuals to shine in their element while working in concert together towards a goal.

I’m so spoiled on the duet that it’s hard for me to enjoy a single voice anymore. Give the duet a listen, and a try, and you won’t ever go back to a lone voice again.

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No strangers to the venture space, this co-founding pair has both dealt with divvying out funds and receiving venture capital. Having what they would describe as extremely good role coverage, they have aligned the broader community to their ambitious goals for the startup region. Enjoy their radical vision for our region’s innovation economy!

NATHAN PREHEIM
A serial entrepreneur in every way, Nathan can’t help but concept new companies. Thankfully, he has become quite attuned to taking a concept through validation and eventually into scale. His experience in creating more than half a dozen companies led to the creation of The Startup Collaborative’s unique approach to company building.

Prior to The Startup Collaborative, Nathan is best known for co-founding MindMixer, a civic engagement startup that quickly scaled from 0 customers to nearly 1,000 in just two years. Eventually employing more than 75 employees across the Midwest.

Ironically, Nathan brought maturity and structure to wild-west style startups across the Silicon Valley, Silicon Beach and now back at Silicon Prairie.

A San Francisco expat, Creighton and UNO graduate and now Midwest community leader, Nathan is a fixture on the startup scene.

ERICA WASSINGER
Before launching The Startup Collaborative, Erica co-founded Omaha Startup Collaborative.

Best known for creating the elusive sense of density within the Omaha startup market, OSC quickly became home to more than 70 area startups and tech companies. Within just 18 months, OSC had been connected to the creation of a few hundred jobs, millions in venture funding and the inspiration of thousands of current and potential entrepreneurs.

Erica’s entrepreneurial insights have been quoted in publications like Forbes, Inc. Magazine and even on NPR.

Boomeranging back to Nebraska from Dallas where she worked with top civic leaders on pivotal public-private partnerships to change the trajectory of the city. Previously, Erica worked with a handpicked group of growth-seeking clients spanning the marketing, technology and startup companies.

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  • Great post! I think it can be done without a Co-Founder but I think only about 1% of the population is that type of person…

  • John Seawell

    I agree, two heads are better than one! On that note I put forth my offer. I’m a semi-retired 60 year old with a MBA who enjoys crunching numbers (accounting) looking to work with/mentor a startup in the Lincoln area. I be at 1 million cups on Wed 9am if you have an idea about what I can do with my spare time.