Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Looking for a co-founder? Try attending the REAL startup school.

I've noticed a number of people saying things like, "Where can I find a co-founder for my startup?", and perhaps, "I also need funding... and a good idea." Not you, of course -- you already have a great idea, so you just need a co-founder and funding, right? Do you also have intelligent and experienced people who you trust to offer reasonable advice, to help you refine your "great idea" into something that will actually work, to help you out when things go wrong?

Do you think those problems will be solved by attending Startup School? Do you think that you'll meet all the right people, find that co-founder that will perfectly complement you, and learn all the inside information that you need to make your startup succeed? I hope that's not what you think. Startup School is a really good idea. It will give you a nice overview of things to think about, create a sense of possibility, and hopefully convince you to make the jump. Also, if you're there at 9:30, you'll get to hear a talk by a very sleepy me. As great as all that is, it's still just a one day event -- it's unlikely that you'll suddenly know all the right people and be ready to create your own startup.

So where is the REAL startup school, the one where you can find a good co-founder and all that? In my opinion, it's going on right now inside of the thousands of startups that ALREADY EXIST. You don't need to find a co-founder and funding and an idea, you just need to find an interesting startup and get them to hire you. I hinted at this in my previous post, "My startup path", but I'll say it more explicitly now: If you don't already know what you're doing, just join one of the many startups that already exist!

Your new startup job should give you the opportunity to:
  • Learn about startups.
  • Meet people who would be good future co-founders or employees.
  • Witness success or failure -- you can learn a lot from either.
  • Do things that you aren't qualified to do. I certainly wasn't qualified to build Gmail. This is another great way to learn.
  • Make a lot of money if the startup happens to be a big success, and you don't necessarily need to own a big slice for this to happen.
Of course not all startup jobs will offer these benefits, which is why you should look for one that's run by smart and ambitious people.

This startup school will take more than a day, and in fact it could go on for years if the startup fails to go out of business and you decide to stick around. However, my prediction is that you'll learn a lot more from the experience than you did during the years spent memorizing trivia in school, and you'll be in a much better position if you then decide to found your own startup.

Who are these great startups that you should be applying to? At some point I'll try to make a list, but for now, here is one suggestion: Xobni. Adam and Matt are definitely smart and ambitious, and they also have some exciting news, which I can't yet tell you about.

Update: In case it wasn't clear enough, I'm recommending both the YC Startup School and the real world startup school (i.e., joining a real startup).

Update two: Some people have gotten the impression that I'm telling you to join a startup and then steal their employees. This is not what I'm suggesting. What I am suggesting is that in a year or two the startup will either be a success (which is good!), or it will not be a success, in which case your co-workers will be looking for something new. Even if it is a success, it could be acquired by (or become) a big company, and the startup types may want to move on. Furthermore, in all cases you have learned a lot more about startups, which was my main point.


Joe Entrepreneur said...

Honestly I been that path twice. Worked in two startups. 2 years in first one and 4 years in second one. Both had passionate founders and good engineers. Just happened to be in wrong industry at wrong time. So I did make some money (very little) but all that hardwork did not materialize financially for any of us in Engineering. Both times..

But yes, I learned so many lessons from both experiences. Learning was absolutely great.

For me, now I exactly know what I want to do and actually working on developing "Marketplace that is social, innovative and Free to use". It is called "Onista" (http://www.onista.com). Will release in summer time. If I fail this time, at least I will learn much more as founder than just as being Engineer.
Experience people say that, persistence matters more and I guess I have that plenty. Let's see...

Thanks for the nice post Paul.

Unknown said...


Let me know if you want help making that list.


Mike Sabat said...

The first thing I would recommend is to find a coffee house and write your business plan. My guess is that 50% of the people that complete this step will find a co-founder.

If you want to increase your chances go to relevant meetups or likemind.

Anil Philip said...

"perfectly compliment you"

spelling mistake

Anil Philip said...

Sorry, but I have a problem with this: "Meet people who would be good future co-founders or employees".

A startup is not the same as a mega-corporation.
I currently work for a startup since mine has floundered. I critically need cofounders. Everyone has been handpicked by the founder and they like him. He is a good guy. There are 3 developers. One would make a great cofounder for my startup, but do you think I would ever ask him?

Put it this way - it is like making friends with a couple in order to steal the affections of the woman. Need I say more...?

Paul Buchheit said...

Anil, I think my post is maybe just not clear enough about this. I'm not suggesting that you steal people away from the startup. What I am suggesting is that in a year or two the startup will either be a success (good for you all), or it will probably fall apart, in which case there are people available. Even if it's a success, it may be acquired by (or become) a big company, and startup types will want to quit.

nicolas belhassen said...

simple but true direct advice.
I am in this position and you just blow my face.

AndreiButusina said...

Hy Paul, my name is Andrei and I'm from Romania. I've just been turned down from Y Combinator. I've been working on a startup with a co founder and it's part of our plan to come to the US bay area this summer.I would like to get in touch and talk about our situation. My e-mail is AndreiButusina@gmail.com. Thanks.

Unknown said...

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