Who Should You Start a Company With? As Seattle Evolves, FounderDating Has an Answer
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meet the right co-founders at most networking events. But it’s crucial for entrepreneurs to broaden their network as they try to form the best possible team.
“How do you go beyond the circle of people you worked with in the past? It’s an important challenge,” says John Bito, a freelance software developer who has worked at five startups including Seattle’s Qpass and Entertonement. “If you’re interested in doing something new and different, it’s a good idea to have someone on board with a different perspective.”
But most founders end up choosing their co-founders precisely because they’ve worked with them before. “I actually think that’s more cancerous than advantageous,” says Ron Wiener, the founder and former CEO of EarthClassMail. Not necessarily because of power struggles or other interpersonal dynamics, but because it limits the types of expertise on the team, he says. Which is where a program like FounderDating could really help expand a company’s gene pool. To meet entrepreneurs with similar levels of experience but different strengths—“that’s invaluable,” says Wiener. “It’s a very exclusive club.”
Alexander Mamishev, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, is looking to start a company around the idea of helping corporations, government agencies, and academics write technical proposals and papers more efficiently. But he has had a hard time meeting compatible founders at local events. Mamishev thinks FounderDating is promising because it’s “pre-screened and then creating a good mix of people in the room.” But he adds, “I don’t know if it will work, because the problem itself is so difficult.”
It seems like the program could have a big impact on a relatively small group of experienced entrepreneurs who have done it before and are looking for their next big thing. But that’s the point, of course—to be very selective about the people in the room. We’ll be watching closely to see what new companies come of the experiment, and whether there is much of a correlation between startup success and the types of relationships among the co-founders.
“I’m pretty sure studies prove that success correlates with the quality of the relationship and skills” of the founding team, Schultz says.
He says if FounderDating is successful in Seattle, he’ll plan to organize quarterly events here. And possibly help expand the program to a national network that might include a database to enable entrepreneurs to connect to potential founders elsewhere.
In the end, entrepreneurs just want a wider pool of qualified people to meet—and a place where they can quickly size up whether they’d want to work together. Bito, for one, says he’s happy doing freelance work but could also see starting a company, perhaps in Internet commerce or enterprise software. “I’m looking for people who have juicy problems which have lucrative solutions to be developed,” he says. “I’m definitely ready if I can find the right person.”