Co-founder search: How did a business guy score me?

Maybe it’s just me noticing that now, but there is a lot more chat on the blogosphere, twittersphere, hackernewsphere, and on Google Groups about this specie called “Business Guy” who are looking for this other specie called “Tech Guys” to make sweet startup love. I was particularly moved to write this post after I saw a tweet by Marc Nager to a post by Jason Freedman who also linked to a post by Will Miceli. The gist is: You don’t find a technical co-founder, you earn one!

Damn, that’s so true. And it works both ways.

So, back in January of this year, a guy named Russell Benaroya was looking for the mythical technical co-founder. Long story short, we are business-married and living the dream.

Why did I say “yes”?

I’ll skip the complexities of a co-founder partnership negotiation, which only happens after you believe that’s the right match. Like a pre-nuptial agreement, you don’t talk about that on your first date, but you talk about before you get married. That will be another blog post.

Although I was the founder & CEO of my first startup, we only “took off” after Paul Gross joined the company as the CEO and I moved to the CTO role. So, I’ve reported to someone who was a lot more business savvy than me (not true when I worked at Microsoft) and learned the value of having that person. From that, I learned what I wanted from the next CEO of my startup (if it wasn’t going to be me).

How to pick a CEO

You might have heard this before, but many people say the job of the CEO is to set the vision, hire the right people, figure out how they get paid and step out of the way for them to do their work. I think that’s absolutely true. The best leaders are the ones who are not only moving aside for you to do your job, but they go to great lengths for you not to get bothered by things that might prevent you from doing your job (like excessive meetings, running out of money, a grease chair, lack of food, etc.)

But that’s not enough for me to decide if this is the CEO I want to go to business with. I was looking particularly for two things:

  1. Does he have a track record of making things happen?
  2. What part of the business will he do it?

Making things happen don’t necessarily means doing things by your own hand, but knowing how to recruit the right talent, outsource the right skills, and bring in the right resources and services, to… ship something. Turns out that Russell built a (non-technology) health-related startup. If it was successful or not, if he did it all by himself, or if he had a team of amazing leaders reporting to him, was less important. He did it. He pulled it together, executed and sold it.

The second point is actually a “but” on the first point. Yes, you can be good a bringing people together to make things happen, but what if you don’t have all the financial resources to bring all those folks together (like most startups)? Which part of building a startup will you pick up? There is design, marketing, development, biz-dev, sales, operations, customer support and everything else needed in a business. I put this question to myself last week: If I was the CEO of EveryMove, and I had to recruit Russell to be anything but the CEO, which job I would want him to do? Turns out that Russell is a phenomenal biz-dev guy. He can bring people to the table who would blow your mind away. Which is also a very handy skill for fund-raising, but fund-raising is just a dot in the life of a startup, and biz-dev is a long line.

Maybe when I accepted to join forces with him, it wasn’t as clear as it is now why this is the right match, but it some deep level I understood that.

Now, I don’t want people to think this was a one-sided “sell”. He probably had similar thoughts about evaluating how to get a co-founder CTO, but that’s for him to tell.

The bottom line is simple for those looking for a technical co-founder: if you have no track record of getting stuff done, it will be very unlikely you’ll find that person. Will Miceli knew that, so he went to prove that he could do it first and the technical co-founder was a consequence.

Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.