So, let's say you have a great idea. Maybe it's been your side project, or maybe you’re 100 percent committed to making this idea a business. In the pre-revenue phase you're now in, you need to focus on how to attract the best founding team. And you need to understand that your road ahead is not going to be easy, because a founding team in an early-stage startup generally has little or no revenue, and a whole lot of potential problems.
At the same time, you probably already know that finding good technical talent, versus business talent, is critical, and that even if you find willing co-founders, unless you’ve worked with them in a prior role, it will be impossible to be sure what kind of fit they'll be.
So, what can you do to attract, and test, good co-founders? Here are six tips.
1. Craft your vision, and keep it simple
Startup founders often struggle to describe exactly what they do. Some of this is natural: In the early stages, you have likely identified a problem and an idea about how to solve it. But there is still plenty of ambiguity, and a lot to iron out before your business becomes viable.
Before you look for co-founders, then, you need a clear vision of what your company does, what problems your idea solves and who your target audience is for that solution. Just as not everyone can be your customer, not everyone can be your co-founder . . . and you need a clear value proposition that works for both groups.
2. Think a little about the future.
Even though you’re in a pre-revenue stage, when it comes to attracting potential co-founders, you must lay out your basic business structure. Although nothing is set in stone at this stage, have an idea about the size you want to build your company to, how you want to fund it and what level of commitment you want from your co-founder(s) in the short and long term.
Once you have a clear vision and the basic framework for your expectations of your co-founder (s), it's time to develop relationships -- and to recognize that it's now all about the people on your team and the culture you create.
3. Treat referrals as the best way to find a good match.
Strong ties are often more important than raw talent. In fact, when you start searching for that perfect co-founder, your first strategy should be to share your vision with your existing networks.
Tell them why you are building, what you are building and what is important to you in a co-founder. You may not get an interested party immediately, but putting your intention out there means that people in your network will start to think about matching you with the perfect candidate.
4. Find or create an open source project or community.
Creativity and ideas tend to flourish within the context of peers operating in a space where creativity and smart thinking abound. Find your peers in the community in which you work. This may mean spending time in a co-working space, a regular meet-up group or even an online forum. Like minds flourish together, and when you find people who like and are inspired by similar things, your co-founder candidates are more likely to fit your vision.
Networking and co-working can also lead you to people who might be able to make a cold introduction to a potential co-founder. Expect that it will take time to develop meaningful relationships, but this kind of introduction may be the path to a perfect fit.
5. Create and consistently maintain a blog or microblog.
Once referrals and interested potential co-founders turn up, they will begin to check you out; they'll be evaluating you just as you are evaluating them.
The single most important signal you can provide to attract these prospective candidates is to consistently share your learnings and professional development. A blog attached to your website is a great tool to market your idea, your vision and your attractiveness to a potential co-founder. Your channel for sharing might also be a series of YouTube videos, a presence on Twitter or even a public online forum. Sharing how you think and operate and how you identify and solve problems is a key component for attracting the talent you need. Do these things on a regular basis.
6. Date first, then plan the wedding (a.k.a. the business partnership).
These tips lead to the most important ingredient: finding a way to test the relationship. As Steve Blank, author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany, one of the founding books of the lean startup movement has said, cofounders should seek to “date first” in order to see if the potential relationship is a good one.
Founders who’ve been through the process a couple of times often say that little of a startup's success depends on raw talent, while a lot depends on how well and quickly people work together. Skills like empathy, problem-solving and reactions to pressure under fire matter. Testing out these skills in a real-world situation can help you assess if the co-founder relationship you've found is a good one.