Founder Swap: Like Wife Swap For Startup Execs

On June 1, Founder Swap aims to take six different startups and get them to exchange founders, in an effort to get a fresh set of eyes on whatever they’re working on and foster new ideas. The New York City-based project was dreamed up by ScrollKit founders Kate Ray and Cody Brown, along with Jonathan Basker, VP of People at BetaWorks.

The team started thinking about Founder Swap in the context of Rhizome’s Seven On Seven conference, which pairs up artists and technologists of different disciplines and asks them to “create something new” — whether that be a piece of art, an application, or anything else they can imagine. Participating artists and technologists meet on a Thursday and are given a little more than a day and a half to get to know each other and build something together, before presenting the results at the conference on Saturday.

In the same way, Founder Swap hopes to mix and match founders for one day, basing the swap in part on the strengths and weaknesses of the founding teams. It’s aimed at very early-stage startups, those with just two or three people working together, and is designed to provide a fresh perspective on the things they’re building.

After working 18-hour days working together, founders often develop similar views on what their product should be, Basker told me in a phone interview. So like the TV show Wife Swap, Founder Swap is designed to break founders out of the habits that they’ve become accustomed to while working together and to foster new ideas.

So a startup with two technical founders might swap with one that has two founders who are stronger from the business side of things, for instance. Or a startup without a strong UX person might get a designer to take a look at its product, etc. etc.

In an email, Ray wrote: “We expect that founder swap will help people exchange specific knowledge and experience with those who can benefit from it, but what we’re hoping is that the new interactions will spark ideas that otherwise would never have come into being.”

There’s another side benefit that could come of the project, which might benefit not just individual startups, but could improve the entire New York tech ecosystem. Since most “small tech companies often have crappy or non-existent APIs,” Brown believes that the Founder Swap project could help make startups more open. “This is a way to get them thinking about how their startup can exist in a broader network of startups forming in NYC,” he wrote.