Finding a Co-founder in College

by Y Combinator2/5/2016

Dear YC,

I am a graduate student in the field of Artificial Intelligence, and I have this great idea for an application. I already surveyed 500 potential customers, and they loved the idea. Now I’m in the prototyping stage.

My problem is that I cant find a cofounder who is as passionate as I am about starting a startup. How should I deal with this problem?

–Seeking a Partner

Dear YC,

I co-founded a startup with a colleague from college. We have split the equity equally, and we’re both in our school’s entrepreneur program, so we work together on campus every day.

The problem is, my cofounder is somewhat less motivated and less confident than I am to sacrifice their balanced life for the sake of the startup.

How can I motivate my cofounder to work as hard as needed to make this startup successful (from 7am to 7pm)? What are the keys to motivating a first-time cofounder?

–Ready to Work

Dear Seeking and Ready,

You’re both asking very similar questions, though you have slightly different starting points.

It would be really great if there was a single place to go where you could find an amazing selection of cofounders. These cofounders would all be smarter than you, more motivated, and better at getting things done. They’d instantly make your idea and startup better.

That place doesn’t quite exist, but you’re both in the next best thing – university! You are both surrounded by smart and motivated people, so the question is figuring out which you want to work with and then making sure that your goals and motivation are aligned. This isn’t easy or fast to figure out, but you can fall back on a set of principles to increase your chances of success.

The most likely place to find a cofounder is within your circle of friends and the people you’ve worked with on projects. Go through each of them and figure out whether or not you’d want to work with them closely. If the answer is yes, go talk to them.

Your goal initially isn’t to start a big company. It’s to start working on a project together and see what happens (if you’ve never worked together.) Be really honest with this new prospective cofounder about what you want and what you think you need to accomplish it. You’ll know pretty quickly whether or not your work styles and goals mesh. You’ll also get a sense of whether or not you think that person is good enough. If that first project goes well, get cranking, and write out a quick agreement on how you plan on splitting the company. This is part of communicating and setting expectations.

If you come across someone on your list that you don’t particularly want to work with, but you think is very smart, go and talk to them anyway. Ask them if they know anyone good that you should talk to about working with.

You will likely have to repeat this process lots of times, but if you are clear and honest when communicating what you want to do and how, you’ll have a better shot at finding a great cofounder.

Two other important things to keep in mind:

  • You don’t actually need a cofounder to start a company. Make sure you’re not adding someone just because that seems like the right thing. Having a great cofounder makes starting a company much easier, but having a bad one usually kills the company.

  • Always remember that different people work in different ways. Some people make progress by grinding, and others make it through shorter bursts. There’s no right or wrong method here, but you need to make sure that you are comfortable with one another’s work styles, or someone will always be upset.

–Aaron Harris

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  • Y Combinator

    Y Combinator created a new model for funding early stage startups. Twice a year we invest a small amount of money ($150k) in a large number of startups (recently 200). The startups move to Silicon