Folks,Allow me to change the metaphor from dating to ... wait for it ... football.The co-founder problem is akin to drafting a quarterback problem.How's that, you ask?There is little correlation between success in the college game and with the pro game. The QB is a position that is truly defying, it appears, moneyball analysis.Why is this?First, the pro game is much faster than the college game. That is why the spread offense has almost no success in the pro game. There is little predictive success due to college performance for pro performance. Second, the QB position is the position that has the least repetitive patterns. In other words, it is too reactive and is, hence, less subject to effective statistical analysis.Even after serious scouting, the QB position draft picks are frequent flameouts.
The co-founders of a startup all fill roles with the similar reactiveness and unpredictability of a QB position.
What does that mean for picking a co-founder?
First, your non-CEO technical team is probably your least risky pick. There is a great deal of signaling data to suggest that certain technical folks are better during the startup phase than during the growth phase than during the stabilization phase. You just need to pay attention. These folks are your linemen. As in football, your CTO is the guy who protects the QB's blindside, the left side tackle. (Unsurprisingly, the left side tackle is, I am told, the highest paid position on the line in the pro game.) Finding the right CTO and technical team is easier than probably finding any other position. The data is unambiguous and widely available.
Second, the CEO<->VP-Sales<->VP-Marketing team, i.e. the offense, must execute together and, unfortunately, are frequently the team that comes together late in a startup's pre-school life. (This is where I find myself, BTW.) The VP-Sales, your ground game/running back, has typically lots of data to back up their claim to business success. Lots of people have these skills and are straight forward to find. They should be, IMO, your first co-founder/hire after the product starts to ship. They are responsible for the customer funnel and will work closely with the CTO to refine the product to close sales. The VP-Marketing, your passing game, joins the team after your first few sales. There should be lots of data documenting their success. Marketing success, like sales, can be tracked. Hence, your team needs to do so. This keeps you from drinking your own Kool-Aid®.
Basically, I'm arguing against the young startup team and am arguing for the old pro team. Folks who have proven technical, sales and marketing experience. In other words, for all but the CEO role, there is lots of data signaling whether someone will be successful in that role. The CEO role is different. It is like the QB and you have to take on faith, somewhat, that they can make the right reactive and proactive decisions to grow the company. But as most members of FD want to be the CEOs, we're not really recruiting for those positions.
For the CEO? The most important character traits are, IMO, resilience, flexibility and stubbornness. Those are very hard to identify. You only see them when the chips are down. You cannot scout for them. You only see them after success has been achieved by wandering through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
That is why serial entrepreneurs get funded, even for stupid ideas. There is confidence that the serial entrepreneur will figure out that their idea is stupid and will pivot to something that works. They have a demonstrated talent for doing just that.
The upshot? Find the right signaling data for each role you need in your early team. Use that data. Build a tryout situation around the new person and role. Execute. Evaluate. Evolve.
Even though this site is called Founder Dating, it isn't just about feelings and roses. It is about data and execution and life. Don't let a potential team member's potentially hurt feelings keep you from sticking to a process that demands demonstrated success and evaluates folks based upon trial performance.
Good luck to all of us with our ventures.