62: On Finding the Right Partner
In business and in love
I've heard that finding a cofounder to start a company is a lot like finding a romantic partner.
I got married a few years ago and recently went through the process of finding a cofounder. I can confirm there are strong similarities.
But how do you find the right partner (in both cases)?
I don't think you can guarantee it, but I think you can increase your chances.
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When I was in my fourth year of university, I decided to actively train myself to be more comfortable at striking up conversations with random people - and, in particular, potential future wives.
My rationale was:
the more people I meet, the more likely I am to find someone I fall in love with
I'm busy and don't want to go to events purely to meet people
if I get comfortable starting conversations as I go about my day, I'll meet a lot more people
I did an experiment for a month. I'd strike a conversation with at least one new person every day. Sometimes it was awkward, but I did it.
This didn't radically change my life overnight. But, now that I was comfortable, it meant that my 'rate of meeting new people' increased a bit. And this ultimately led to me meeting my wife.
A chance encounter?
I met my wife at a plaza in Berlin.
I was walking to meet a friend at a shopping mall, when I saw her walking past.
I altered my course, went over and said hi.
We spoke for about 5-10 minutes, including about our shared interest in entrepreneurship, then got each other's contact details and went our separate ways.
We met up again a few days later for a dance class, and things progressed from there until now (married with a baby).
I'm confident that I wouldn't have said hi to a random woman I found attractive if I hadn't deliberately gotten comfortable with it 3 years earlier.
I will shamelessly admit that I dated quite a few people before getting married.
For me, that experience was indispensable to know what I did and did not want from a relationship.
But when it came to finding a co-founder, this is my first company - so how do I know who is the right fit for me?
I decided to join entrepreneur first (EF), and there I underwent a cofounder speed-dating process.
At EF, you're in a cohort of ~70 people, who have a wide range of skills and interests. You have two months to talk to different people, test out different teams and find the one.
I used this as a learning process to find out what I wanted and needed from a cofounder - and was surprised by what I found.
Traits of the right business partner
There were some useful heuristics that EF provided to help identify whether someone is the right person for you:
when working together, you should make each other more productive - that your productivity is greater than the sum of your parts
you should both feel like you're lucky to be with the other person
They also shared some exercises you can work through together, such as:
A venn diagram to explore your combined skillset:
These were some suggestions, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach.
Who is right for me?
In my case, going into EF, I thought the ideal traits of my cofounder were: (1) intensity and sharp intellect, (2) previous experience of selling in healthcare, and potentially (3) complementary technical skills.
But, through the process, I identified a few other traits that complemented me very strongly, and were perhaps even more important:
1. Verbal improvisation.
I can talk well once I've thought about something, but find it harder on the fly. My cofounder is fantastic at this, and I'm really seeing the value of this in an early-stage start-up.
2. A bias towards exploration (rather than exploitation).
There's a classic concept of exploration vs exploitation in computer science. When an algorithm tries out something new, it's exploring. When it tries something it knows is good, it's 'exploiting' its knowledge. You can apply this to any decision-making process.
I've realised I have a strong bias towards exploitation. Once I come up with an idea, I'll start hustling to get it done. But sometimes it's better to explore before honing in on that idea - so working with someone with that bias has been extremely helpful.
Gut feelings for big decisions
When it comes to making the final decision about who to partner with, I think there's a lot to be said for gut feelings.
After I met my wife in Berlin, I left 4 days later and remember thinking "damn.. I think this could be the one... I think we may well get married".
I had a similar moment with my current cofounder. We started talking about an idea one morning, and continued to talk deeply throughout the day. I remember stopping myself in the afternoon and thinking "I think this could be the one".
A few hours later, my co-founder suggested formally working together, and we haven't looked back since.
Quite a long email this week! :) I’ve been thinking about this subject a fair amount over the last few months. I’ve linked some further resources below.
Have a great week!
Resources: Finding a business partner/cofounder
All quite EF-centric… I may have been brainwashed :)
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Hi! I’m Chris Lovejoy, a Junior Doctor and Data Scientist based in London.
I’m on a mission to improve healthcare through technology (particularly AI / machine learning), and share what I learn along the way.
In this weekly newsletter, I share my top thoughts and learnings from each week, as well as links to the best things on the internet that I come across.