The Rules of Founder Dating

I recently attended an excellent event put on by a few people from BetaHouse and TechStars. The premise was to meet and network with other entrepreneurs in the Boston area to potentially find cofounders for your next venture. I'm primarily a technical guy, and I'm not married to any particular idea. Finding and enticing great technical talent to join your startup is hard, which is a big reason why I started the consultancy. We help startups get the technology they need, but sometimes founders desire a technical partner in crime. So, if you're looking to attract solid developers or designers in your venture, here's some perspective from a technical person who's on the venture "dating" scene.

What's your name?

At the beginning of the event, everyone had an opportunity to introduce themselves, their business, and state who or what they were looking for. I was surprised at how many people with ventures did not introduce themselves. They jumped right to the idea. The idea is important, but free agents want to know just as much about you as your business. Briefly state your name and a little of your background - it won't take away from the presentation of your idea, and it will definitely help people to get to know you better.

What's your idea, again?

This goes beyond finding team members. If you cannot clearly articulate what your business is all about in one minute, you need to practice your pitch. After many pitches, I had to ask myself what problems the team members were trying to solve. Technical people are naturally problem solvers, so they want to know about what pains you're setting out to remedy.

Great idea. Tell me more about your team

Any idea can sink or swim based on the team's capability. I want to hear about your executive team and their background. I want to hear about your board of advisors or your board of directors. Who inspires you? Who keeps you accountable? If I'm going to jump in the water with you, I want to know that you'll help keep us afloat by surrounding yourself with great people.

I lost you at "Revolutionary" or "Web 2.0"

You're in a room with about fifty other entrepreneurs that are just beginning to conceptualize their idea. Is your idea really that revolutionary? These terms really don't mean anything to me right now. What market are you going after, and why do you feel your company can be disruptive in that space? What's the market cap, and how much market share do you project over a 1, 2, and 5 year period? How much revenue are you expecting in these years? At what point do you anticipate becoming profitable? Isn't the social media hype all about Web 3.0 now?

Technical people like substance, and some like hard numbers. Throwing around hand waving terminology doesn't instill confidence in your idea or you as a potential cofounder.

It's a Slow Romance

Perhaps it was because the TechStars application deadline is fast approaching, but founders were a bit eager to get your commitment. So let me get this straight, I just met you and learned about your idea, but you want me to come on board next week?

Joining a startup is not something I want to decide on overnight. Finding team members that you jive well with is a time intensive process, and it shouldn't be rushed for either party. Have coffee regularly, jump on a few calls, then maybe pursue a short or part-time contractual relationship before everyone commits. You're going to be spending a lot of time together, so chemistry is vital. Enjoy the courting phase, and pop the question when you know it's the real thing.