How To Find a Co-Founder or Early Startup Team Member
Sarah Hodges Partner at Pillar VC
Write a job description for the person you're seeking
More than anything, this is a way for you to articulate the skills you need on your team, and what this person will own and help the business achieve in the early days of your company. This is also an opportunity to crystalize your mission, vision and values in a succinct way that is compelling to co-founders or team members who are considering joining your team. View job description template here.
Consider people who you've worked well with in the past
Look for people who have complementary skills to your own. Particularly when it comes to co-founders, the bar should be high –– it can be helpful to have a previous relationship with someone and understand their ways of working and your dynamics working together.
Every conversation is an opportunity to connect with a potential co-founder or team member
You never know who might be able to connect you to your co-founder or early team member through their network. Practice your “elevator pitch”.
Work your network
Reach out to friends, former colleagues, your university, other universities in your city to spread the word about who you’re seeking
Reach out to people you know who have the skills you want
If you know someone who fits the description of what you’re looking for who is not on the move, reach out to let them know who you want to meet –– they likely have other people in their networks with similar backgrounds.
Reach out to people you admire who have the skills you want
If you follow someone from afar who embodies the skills you’re looking for, reach out to let them know that you admire their work, and ask if they know anyone who could be a good fit for your company.
Reach out to your investors
If you’ve raised venture funding or angels, reach out to your investors for support. Ask that they share job posts with their networks. Many may also have access to LinkedIn Recruiter, jobs newsletters or other tools to help grow awareness.
Tap into local university job boards
Don't stop there - tap into the leaders of clubs on campus that are relevant to your company, asking that they share your job descriptions with friends and members of these clubs. Look beyond top tier universities that everyone will include in their search; there's plenty of strong talent at other schools too.
Reach out to graduate students.
Many graduate students are taking a leave of absence this year as schools move to remote learning. Others have lost job opportunities that were rescinded when COVID hit. This is an excellent opportunity for you! We’ve had great success networking with individuals on campus, and posting roles through https://www.12twenty.com/.
To meet founders outside your current circle, attend networking events (previously in person, recently virtual). For example, if you are interested in a new industry, or if you want to meet experts in marketing or engineering, look for events that draw in those types of people. But don’t expect magically to meet your future Co-Founder in the audience at the event. Instead, just try to make one good contact. Later, follow up for another meeting and develop a deeper connection. Then, ask your new friend for a referral to someone in their network whom they admire, and who might be interested to start a company. When it comes to finding co-founders, matchmakers are your friend.
Join a Hackathon
Hackathons are one type of event where a high proportion of attendees do have an interest in starting a business and the whole point is to come together to prototype an idea. This is both a blessing and a curse, because you have a higher chance of forming a team of complementary strengths and actually finding a good idea, while a random team is usually not the ideal team on paper. Nevertheless, we know several companies whose founders first connected at a Hackathon, did well, and decided to move forward together. Just be prepared to navigate changes in the team as the company gels.
Beware of starting a company with one of your family members!
There is high potential for the situation to put strain on your relationship and cause conflict for you and your team. It can be tempting, because you know each other’s strengths...but you’ve also never worked together in a startup, and the dynamic may be entirely different at work than it is at home or in your family life. If you do decide to venture down this path, be sure to create clear and differentiated roles, responsibilities and an understanding of the decision-making process in your company. You should also be totally transparent with your team about the boundaries you’ve created. (Seek out Pillar VC’s Sarah Hodges for advice on this topic!).
How to Hire Your Early Startup Team
- Hack.Diversity (typically more appropriate for scaling funded companies)
- Compensation Data Providers – if you’re VC-backed, your firm will likely have access to Option Impact; this data is much more accurate than data in online salary sites.