Finding a Great co-founder

Finding a Great co-founder is like lottery. And when you find one it’s like marriage. It’s what makes or breaks companies. And its not any co-founder, it’s the “right” co-founder which complements you and fills in your weak spots. You need a Great co-founder.

Many people want to do something in business. They day dream and talk it big like it’s happening. But when the time comes to crunch and the need to sacrifice their life style (change) the tune begins to change. This is why this cuts out about 90% of the want to be co-founder pool.

Google Co-founders - Larry Page & Sergey Brin
Google Co-founders - Larry Page & Sergey Brin

Finding the right co-founder is as most people say like getting into marriage. It’s not easy but doable. And you will have rough patches that you need to be able to get over and move forward. There are many discussions online on how & where to find the right co-founder. The reality of the fact is it’s probably slightly better chance then winning lottery.

Benefits of a Great co-founder

Having a great co-founder helps with being able to bounce ideas off each other, technically support each other, emotional support and give you a chance at getting into Y Combinator like incubators. Most of these incubators only accept +1 co-founders for this very good reason.

“Successful single-founder startups are so rare that they’re famous on that account.” ~ Paul Graham from Y Combinator.

From good to great co-founders
From good to great co-founders

Most of all successful businesses became successful only after pivoting due to market demands or circumstances. Just read Jessica Livingstone’s Founders at Work. Jessica covers most of the successful companies today and how they did not start off with what they are famous for today. Or take a peek at Steve Blanks’s latest book The Startup Manual where he shares his years of research that startups and enterprises are different in the fact that enterprises are executing on a proven business model while startups are finding (pivoting) to one which will hopefully stick. Hence what we see in Jessica’s book on founders success and also having a founder which has the right mindset to pivot with you when required.

Ok enough about this common knowledge. Here are 3 core lessons I learnt and believe will help you on your quest as well.

School of hard knocks

a. Cut out the business folks.

Especially those that can talk well. They are good later on but not in the initial stages when all you need to do is build a kick ass product. A kick ass product will sell itself. And if you are a true entrepreneur you will also know how to sell it and develop the product.

I also found that the business folks will have a tendency to burn money for unnecessary “business development tasks” which as I said above are not needed. Maybe it’s a way they try to justify their existence early on. The best way I believe they can justify it is by learning to be technical and add value that way. That is the only way I would have a business co-founder if he rolled his sleeves up and got into the code & supported the development efforts. Once they become more technical they will also understand (and appreciate) why certain fixes, changes or piece of work really takes hours and not fluffy minutes.

b. Cut out those that cannot deliver.

Probably the single best advice I can give you. You will be surprised how many cannot deliver.

Stay focused & keep shipping

Some people that used to be able to deliver once may not today. It is a proven fact the environment changes people. People do not change alone. Your environment dictates your actions. The rest, just get better at being an actor. (ref Zod’s 10 Axioms). Separating those that “are” in the game vs those that “say” they are in the game will save you plenty of headaches. I learnt this the painful way many times over. Even with folks that had a kickass background but just couldn’t deliver a minimum viable product.

“No Talk, All Action”

Delivery is such a key point here that I cannot stress it enough. It is what will separate you from your competitors. It is what will give you a leaders advantage. It is what separates the boys from men. Take a read of Facebook’s release engineering process. This is what makes them great. They release daily small changes and weekly major changes without disrupting the user experience. We do not like to wait in line to get served. Online or not, we expect it yesterday. Start delivering.

c. Cut out those that cannot communicate.

Working remotely or locally, communication is pivotal to success. Both from understanding each other to communicating expectations. If we cannot communicate well or even understand each other then expectations are misaligned leading to arguments, tasks not clearly assigned ending up with delivery failures or delivery of the wrong product/feature and ultimately the business collapses. The wheels get out of sync.

There are no excuses for not being able to communicate. There are many free tools out there to help with communication like meetings.ioasana, yammer, gtdfaster.comskype etc… ontop of the standard phone, email and personal meetups at popular hacker houses. Using those tools to help manage expectations (think tasks) to scrum updates is pivotal to success. If you are not over communicating then you are not delivering the right results.

Shell shocked

Shell shocked
Shell shocked - Ninja Turtles

Yes. That’s how it felt every single time I had to deal with such co-founders that sold themselves high on their skills and failed to bring something viable and worthy to the table.

A good life lesson is this. “Always take action on things. People regret inaction more than action.“. I find regret sticks around with you longer and this is more painful.

“Fear cuts deeper than swords.”
― George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

It becomes even more painful when you are waiting around for someone to pickup their slack. So if you have a bad co-founder hanging around you, speak up, act on it and drop them immediately if nothing changes. Don’t look back. Most of all, as Zod Nazem said “don’t pass your garbage to your neighbor”.

Ask questions

Ask yourself these questions before committing your energy and time with a potential co-founder.

  • Have they go any examples of execution & delivery on time? Not so fast, it needs to be recent projects in current environment. Not past (historical/ancient) projects. Recall what I said above about environment & change.
  • Work together and deliver something together on time to completion – we all have small projects. Try before you buy. Don’t use hackathons as a gauge. Use something where pressure has to come from within you both. Failing this no 2nd changes. No one can recover your lost time.
  • Can they communicate well? Easy test is in how they speak/communicate something to you 1:1 and via email. Do you feel like you do not know the status of your project or understand the message?
  • Do they have expertise/domain knowledge in an area you lack? If yes work on this small project in that area to see.
  • Do a quiz to see founder valueshere’s one here. But do not count on it alone. It’s just to get your mind ticking.

I always say…

“First time shame on you; Second time shame on me!”
― Ernest Semerda

If something is a repeating pattern you need to act fast. This life lesson I was taught by a senior VP and it has proven to be valuable and rewarding time again.

Got life lessons you want to share here? Post below or shoot me a message.

Enjoy!
~ Ernest

Tips on travelling in the USA

The following list is by no means complete or exhaustive of everything one needs to know to travel in the USA. This is a list of stuff I learnt in the last 1 year of travelling around USA. These I share with you now and will regularly update as I learn more and any corrections along the way.

Tips

  • Use a “SuperShuttle” to and from the airport. http://www.supershuttle.com/it’s a shared taxi van of around 9 people. It’s dirt cheap vs. crazy taxi fares and you get to see more of the area as they drop off people around town.
  • If you live in the valley and have your own car and are taking a short trip of around a week it is cheaper esp. with a coupon & more convenient to leave your car at any of the available airport parking companies. Some which are further away from the airport have shuttle buses that take you to the airport and back for free so don’t worry if it’s 5 minutes outside the airport.
  • If you are arriving to the USA don’t bother bringing your wardrobe. Clothes here are cheap. Dirt cheap. Brands and all. Especially during public holidays like Thanks Giving or Christmas time by average 50% off.
  • If you need to rent a car do it through Enterprise. I find them the most reliable and mostly the cheapest. Sign up on their website to receive regular coupons to bring that price down and don’t forget to read my post on car rental hidden costs to save even further.
  • For accommodation I highly recommend AirBnB. Airbnb is an online service that matches people seeking vacation rentals and other short-term accommodations globally with locals with rooms to rent. It’s fun, cheaper than hotels, you can be very selective on location (not restricted by hotels location), meet interesting people and live like a local. It works really well in big cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. We only use AirBnB now when travelling. Why spend big $$$ on a hotel when all you need is a place to sleep and store your luggage. Use the money you save to buy some fashion!
  • Americans drive fast on freeways that stretch up to 5 lanes each way. Get ready. Either hire a GPS or bring your own so you’re not slowing traffic down. As long as you’re not doing anything dangerous on the road you will be fine to keep up with the communal speed limit. I’ve seen police sway across all lanes to slow traffic down when it gets too fast.
  • The only dangerous creatures are Bears (especially Grizzly) & Mountain Lions. You wont see poisonous spiders, snakes or crazy insects.
  • For more tips visit each of the places mentioned below. The posts include their own unique tips.

Some of the great places we have visited

  • New York City (Manhattan) – The city that never sleeps. My favorite! One of the most densely populated areas in the world. Known for its financial and fashion center of both the United States and the world.
  • Los Angeles – West Hollywood. Home of the movie industry.
  • San Francisco – Home of the high-tech scene and area known as Silicon Valley.
  • Hawaii – Made up entirely of islands like Big Island, Maui etc. Natural scenery, warm tropical climate, abundance of public beaches and oceanic surrounding, and active volcanoes make it a popular destination for tourists.
  • Monterey – 1-hr drive south of the valley. A beautiful coastal city.
  • Carmel-by-the-sea – a hidden gem round the corner from Monterey. The beachy town is known for its natural scenery and rich artistic history.
  • Yosemite National Park – Designated a World Heritage Site recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, Giant Sequoia groves, and biological diversity. Almost 95% of the park is designated wilderness.
  • Yellowstone National Park – a national park located primarily in the U.S. state of Wyoming known for its wildlife and its many geothermal features.
  • Las Vegas – The Strip. Internationally renowned major resort city for gambling, shopping, partying (clubs) and fine dining.

I will be posting individual posts to each of those locations with photos so come back soon.

~ Ernest

Hiring, Tips on finding rockstar software engineers

Another great day at Hacker Dojo and another great discussion on startups and finding talent in the bay area. So I was asked by a founder of a mobile startup company in the bay area on my experience hiring engineers. Here’s the jist of this discussion. Rockstar engineers wanted

The big 3 – finding rockstar engineers

1. Utilize your network to find rockstar engineers.

There is nothing like finding the right person through your professional or personal network. Those are usually qualified leads; especially if the person you found them through you know well and is also a great engineer. Great engineers like to hang out with other great engineers.

So hit up your LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to let your network know you have an amazing opportunity open for the right person.

If you are on a budget, stay away from external recruiters. They are expensive and hungry to get a sale through the door. They work on commission so will flood you with resumes. My experience has showed me from that flood only 3-5% of the talent is what I would class as rockstar engineers. If you must use one, detail & finecomb your requirements to them so the flood of resumes is more like a filtered clean stream of decent talent.

2. Rockstar engineers are not looking for a job.

It is your role to convince them to come and work on your idea with you because it is better for them. Better for them because of growth (financial & personal) opportunities (*Mastery) and that they will be “changing the world” (*Purpose). Read my previous post on Compensation 101 so you nail this right. Most of all, if you can also offer flexibility (*Autonomy) you will be on a winning hiring streak.

(*) = if you haven’t yet read Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.. then I highly recommend you do. The key 3 points marked with * above are paramount to getting these rockstar engineers on board your train.

3. Attitude over skills.

Engineers with great attitude can be relied on. Their great attitude allows them to be in constant growth phase. Open to change. Positive attitude. And be able to move with the changing times. This is actually Talent. Talent is the ability to learn new things. Skills get outdated fast in this fast changing landscape while talent is something which stays with one forever.

Bonus – how to kick off an interview

So you got a rockstar engineer to come in and have a chat with you.. what next?

  • Interviewing is a 2 way street. You are interviewing the candidate and the candidate is interviewing you. This especially applies for rockstar engineers. Don’t forget this and try to make their experience as pleasurable (and memorable) as possible.
  • Start the process by asking the candidate “What is your most proudest moment in your professional career”. This gets the candidate talking and you can listen, gauge and ask specific questions to drill down into topics that might not have made to their resume.
  • Draw a mindmap as the candidate talks about their proudest moment. This is there to help you understand, navigate and ask better questions. Also shows to the candidate you are paying attention. Remember, your interviewing a rockstar engineering.

More on hiring

If you found this post useful and are now thirsty for more hiring hacks, check out my extensive list of posts (notes) from events I attended where the likes of Auren Hoffman (Rapleaf), Russell Fradin (Dynamic Signal), Dan Arkind (JobScore) etc… shared their experiences.

Have questions? use the comments section below or contact me.

Are you a rockstar engineer?

Then I want to speak to you. We are hiring for many exciting positions at coupons.com.

Coupons.com is located in Silicon Valley (California) and is the leading provider of consumer-printed coupon marketing and technology solutions leading the shift from print based couponing to Internet delivery, a $6.6 billion per year industry. Coupons.com recently got valued at $1 billion company. Contact me to find out more.

~ Ernest