Finding a cofounder during On Deck

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Got accepted into an On Deck cohort? It's orientation week and you're navigating your way through things? Well, firstly, congrats! The next 3 months are going to be fun, fast and fulfilling. For many folks, On Deck is a way for them to meet a potential cofounder whom they might start a company with. That was my goal when I joined back in March, for cohort 3. I do feel like a dinosaur now with how long ago its been, but On Deck has been incredibly valuable to my journey. Justin and I met through On Deck back in March and we been working together since.

Cool, so, how to find a cofounder during On Deck? Here are 3 tips to help you navigate the maze.

Speak to everyone and anyone

While I think it's a great suggestion, do take this one lightly. There are 200+ members of each cohort, so it's not possible to speak to every single person (by the time you're done, the cohort might be over!). Rather, use the community directory to filter down folks that fit your criteria (location, skillset, etc.). Then, go and speak to as many as you can. I'd suggest doing a calendar crunch of 30 mins zoom calls, back-to-back. If you are technical, well, life might be a little easier as you are in high demand. If you're non-technical and looking for a technical cofounder, prioritize your time for the technical people first. There are benefits to this:

  1. You get an opportunity to meet fellow members. Learn about their story and share yours
  2. You will quickly realize who is interesting and you want to continue to engage
  3. If it's not a fit, it's not over from there. If you have a great conversation, often times I find people recommending other people who could have similar interests
  4. If nothing else, you put a name on a face and built some mutual empathy. Just 1 meeting could come a long way in the future. I have met many folks who continued to become friends even if we didn't work together

Cross the cohort lines

While I was On Deck 3, Justin was On Deck 2. Despite this, the community was small and the pool was smaller than it was today. There weren't general rules around speaking to folks from other cohorts but it surprisingly worked out nicely for the both of us – and it may surprise you too! There aren't cohort lines and folks who've attended previous cohorts aren't necessarily tied up. They may still be look, they may have had a team fallout, they may have joined On Deck too early. In our case, Justin had joined a little earlier than he was ready to. When he was on his way out, it was during my cohort and thought I'd be a good fit. The rest is history.

Agree and commit early

As I am writing this, we are going through our fundraising. One thing I noticed is VCs don't cofounder date. They have a process; first meeting with partner 1, second meeting with partner 2, third is a due diligence call with someone within network, and finally, fourth is all partner meeting. If VCs decided they should investment-date each company, they'd run out of time and use up the founder's valuable time. In my opinion, this is the same when finding a cofounder. Here is what I have done:

  1. Met with a number of folks and found ones that were most interesting with shared interests. Usually first meeting is sharing stories
  2. Follow on meeting to learn more about them. Maybe bring up a few topics and get a reaction to it. Maybe we have a take-home assignment
  3. Continue the conversation, book a longer time and dig deeper into topics. This helps get an understanding of their thinking, rigor and ability to see and solve problems
  4. Agree and commit

While it feels like a shotgun marriage, it really is to be honest. It will never replace working with someone you previously worked with or have a history with, but you can get as close as possible by committing earlier. For Justin and I, we committed in March. Our first project didn't work out. That was fine, because we learned how to work together, get users, grow the product and ultimately see it fail.

Cofounder dating or trial periods may not be the best strategy

I spoke to folks who were working with 2-3 people at the same time to see who's a best fit. In my opinion, this has huge opportunity cost.

  1. Most of the time, for trial periods, folks work on things they are not interested in but a way to gauge each other
  2. If one of those projects work out or if you choose to work on the thing you're interested in, AND there isn't a fit. Well, it leaves everyone in an awkward position
  3. FOMO is real. There are a lot of great people in On Deck. You could spend 1-2 months in trial period with someone and it fails. When recircling to re-engage folks, you may find that they already formed their founding teams and off to the races

In my opinion, 3-4 conversations will help you decide if you want to work with this individual. Decide and commit. Cut the conversations with others and get started.

Get involved

On Deck encourages folks to get involved. Get involved! Many folks I spoke to were ones I'd see on Zoom often, posted in Slack often or gave talks I was really interested in. For me, it was a signal of engagement and desire to do something. It also gave me a little glimpse of who they are prior to meeting them. I'd recommend the same. Get involved as much as you can. It'll pay dividends :)

Thanks for reading! Feel free to reach out to me on Slack – I'd love to talk to you and meet you!


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