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Potential Cofounder: Ability Vetting. Formal Tech/Biz Interview?

Hi,

Thanks in advance for the responses. I've enjoyed contributing here and seeing feedback, so excited to see what this elicits.

The question is as follows: you meet a potential cofounder and you hit it off. You keep talking, getting mutually excited by the idea, you seem to get along, and seem to have complimentary requisiteskillets. To use the dating metaphor you're contemplating getting married.

The interesting thing that I've noted is that while you want someone from a different background, by definition that means that you don't have the ability to effectively evaluate their ability in their field. Having an ally from the same field "check them out" is clearly mandated - i.e. As a business person, I'd have a few engineering friends give me their read on the potential tech cofounder.

In some cases, this seems easier than others, especially if they have published code in a portfolio, are active on Github, write often on a blog, etc.

The question I'm wrestling with is the scenario in which they don't have that. You still want someone to talk to them, but how in depth isappropriate? Do you go through a full technical interview? Have someone chat around a few concepts? Just rely on previous work they've done? On one hand, it seems like with such a monumental decision as selecting a cofounder, you want to be as thorough as possible. On the other, you don't want toinadvertentlytorpedo a budding relationship withunnecessarydemands or formality.

I'm curious what others have done here. There clearly seems like there is no one "right" answer, and each situation varies... but I think this will make for a very interesting thread to hear responses. This applies to either side - tech evaluating biz or visa versa.

So thoughts? What have others done? What do you intend to do?

Thanks in advance for the responses!

Best,
Jon

23 Replies

Rob Mathewson
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Rob Mathewson Entrepreneur
CEO at Geedra
Date before you marry. Have your tech advisers monitor the work. No matter how exciting the conversations are now, you've got to test each other in the heat o battle. In the meantime your advisers can comment on the quality of work and advise on long term objectives
David Bergman
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David Bergman Entrepreneur
CTO, Co-Founder of Stackray, Inc.
I have been thinking about that in the sense of providing such services to founders, a quick and clean vetting of potential tech leads and CTO for startups; acting as a meta CTO in a sense. That vetting could also be carried out for potential VCs. Now I just need to find a business-minded co-founder for this (meta) venture; too bad I can't properly vet business folks, being an ber geek myself :-) /David
David Crooke
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David Crooke Entrepreneur
Serial entrepreneur and CTO
The hard skills are easy to verify. "Fit" and mutual trust are not. Focus
Terra Reilly
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Terra Reilly Entrepreneur
Excellent question and one I've pondered. I have been building a group of trusted technical advisors who are contributing their thoughts to my solution. Folks who are behind me and my idea, have either deep CTO experience and or PhD level CS degrees. I've specifically asked them if they will vet a potential technical co-founder for me and they've agreed to do so. I've done the same on the financial and sales front. People you trust, respect and know can validate someone's skills with you is critical. Also - I would expect a potential co-founder to do the same to me. I'm prepared to disclose & discuss details of experience, life, long term expectations and goals, contingency plans, etc. I'm currently founding my second company and I learned a lot from the first successful but at times challenging co-founder experience. It is a marriage and just like someone you are getting to know for that purpose, you can tell they are serious if they are willing to take the time and do the work. Good luck! Terra Reilly
Jon Cooper
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Jon Cooper Entrepreneur
Chief Technology Officer at Colchis Capital Management
Point-in-time technical interviewing is at best barely predictive of a candidate's success in a well-defined role at a stable organization. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, though.

I like @David Bergman's idea re: providing "vetting as a service". But I believe that such a process can only produce negative signals, not positive ones. If you explain your business to me in detail and have me talk to a bunch of candidates, I can tell you which ones are absolutely not a good fit, and why. But I can't tell you which ones are going to be what I call a "soldier"--"just hand me a rifle and tell me who to shoot, Guv"--and which ones are going to be the critical element without which you don't have a company.

My understanding of the data from Google is that the only factors they have found to be predictive of someone's success at Google are their college GPA and what percentage of folks who interviewed them gave the thumbs up. This is in a mature business with a lot of positions to migrate to if the first one doesn't work out.

Choosing a cofounder is like falling in love. You are taking a risk that may result in heart-rending trauma and the implosion of your world. But you do it anyway, because the potential long-term rewards dwarf the possible intermediate-term trouncing. Check in with your head, your heart, your friends and other trusted advisors, and then do what's right. (And hopefully, don't let it fester if it's not going to work out.)
Jon Cooper
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Jon Cooper Entrepreneur
Chief Technology Officer at Colchis Capital Management
@David Crooke said what I meant in 14 words. 'Nuff respect :)
Michael Sattler
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Michael Sattler Entrepreneur • Advisor
President, Splitzee
I second the idea of technical advisors helping you assess the skills of a co-founder. I also strongly advise potential co-founders to work together on a small preliminary project to validate both skills and work styles. To extend the dating metaphor - it's like taking a long vacation before getting engaged. Seeing how you work together is a prerequisite for a founder marriage, because divorce can be messy.
David Crooke
0
0
David Crooke Entrepreneur
Serial entrepreneur and CTO
I meant 16 words " ... on that" but I guess the Submit button knew when I needed to shut up ;)
Alan Peters
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Alan Peters Entrepreneur
VP Product and Technology at BusinessBlocks
You hit it off, go on some dates. Don't get married. And while I don't like prenups for romance.... here they make sense.
Daniel Lo
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Daniel Lo Entrepreneur
Co-Founder at LawGives
Having a github account doesn't make someone a great programmer even if they have contributed to other projects. That is a demonstration of technical skill.

You need to verify that this person can bring (or get) the skills you need to get your company up and going. Technical skills are one of the requirements, the other requirement you are looking for is "GSD" (get shit done). No amount of technical vetting can check for GSD.

A solution is to step up in the risk vs reward. Like the vesting period, you can have a 3-6 month "trial" period in exchange for cash at series A, convertible bond, or just cash compensation in liu of equity. These are tricky to work out, since there is salary, heath insurance, minimum wage, and other such issues.

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