Finding the right cofounder is often the hardest part of doing a startup, as most anyone with experience will tell you. As a personal example: the cofounder of my first company, Phil Kast, was an old high school buddy employed as a whitewater rafting guide in Colorado when we started talking about working together. He happened to be hitting the off-season right when I was trying to get started — and everything went from there.
FounderDating has been working to solve the cofounder connection problem by running regular meetups in San Francisco and Seattle. Today, it’s expanding on the effort by launching a web site that screens then connects those looking for colleagues, and by announcing meetups in new cities including New York, then Boston and Los Angeles.
The new site is designed to be like a private LinkedIn for entrepreneurs, founder Jessica Alter explains. It lets users create profiles about themselves and what they’re interested, and includes search filters for finding people by event, city, interest area, skills, desired starting date, and overall status. A Founder Talk section lets users post messages about what who they’re looking for and what they’re trying to do.
A variety of other organizations loosely try to connect potential cofounders, including SVForum, First Tuesday and Hackers and Founders. The FounderDating site, as with the events, has a special focus on screening for qualifications and experiences — in particular to make sure that people are committed, and are actually recruiting cofounders not employees. The goal is to provide a 50/50 split between technical and business types.
“One of the reasons that a lot of startups fail is because they’re the wrong founding team. I mean, people are leaving all the time.” Alter has been in the community for awhile, having been a business development leader at Bebo, and she’s seen quite a bit — “I just had lunch with one friend who just left their team, and got a text from another at the same time who had done the same thing. One of the things we want to do in the future is figure out how we can provide suggestions for matches, or give warnings if we think things won’t work out.”
And like the events, which FounderDating has done around a dozen of so far in the past year or so, the site stresses privacy. Many of the people, after all, have full-time jobs that they don’t want to compromise while they consider if and how to strike out on their own. Alter compares it to Fight Club: “We tell people that what happens in FounderDating stays in FounderDating.” The events are so founder-focused that not even investors are allowed in the door.
So far, FounderDating has been going well. “The more we talk to people, the more demand we see” Alter says. “Incubators are sending applicants to it who need cofounders, saying things like ‘come back when you have one.’” A couple examples of successful matches include the team behind Y Combinator-backed referral platform Curebit, and inventory matchmaking site Sorced (whose cofounder, Elizabeth Knopf, has a longer post about the experience over on Women 2.0)
FounderDating isn’t necessarily a business right now — it doesn’t charge for anything currently. But she adds that she could see it becoming more of one if it expands beyond tech startups. Anyone starting anything, say, a restaurant, a local craft store, or a farm is going to want to see who good business partners might be.
In the meantime, Alter is running it as a bootstrapped operation. “Managing Directors” — people with deep local connections — help run the events in each city. A “Friends of FounderDating” program includes well-known seed and incubator investors who help promote the program: Dave McClure (500 Startups), Hiten Shah (KISSmetrics), Phin Barnes (First Round Capital), Dave Schappell (Teachstreet) and Chris DeVore (Founders Co-op). Charles River Ventures provides financial support. You can also check out its blog, which features advice from entrepreneurs and other industry leaders, here.
If you’re looking to attend one of the events, there’ll be one here in San Francisco on March 1, another in Seattle on March 6, and the first New York one coming up on February 16. Applications are due a week before each, and you can find out more here.