I started lobangclub just over a year ago with my co-founder Ronald Cheung. We are going through our third major pivot, and what we are pursuing now is vastly different than what we originally envisioned when we started the company.
Everyone talks about skills when choosing a co-founder. To me, there are other things that are just as important. This is the story of how Ronald and I became co-founders.
1. The best way to find a co-founder is to not need a co-founder
I’d had the initial idea for lobangclub in Sept 2009, I was new to Singapore, so I was figuring out how I was going to execute this idea here..I went back to Australia for a holiday over Christmas that year. I met Ron over lunch and told him about the idea. He was intrigued initially, but he had a high paying job, so I thought the chances of something happening was pretty low.
Following that lunch, I pursued Ron for a few weeks about working together and he continued to turn me down. I kept prototyping the product and found a way to get the initial product built quickly. I was fully prepared to start lobangclub solo. I kept Ron updated and, about two months after he first said no, he agreed to join full time as co-founder.
I believe what was crucial to Ron joining was the momentum of the idea. When he joined, our initial product was being built already. I was not waiting for him to start. Him joining increased our velocity.
I see so many people using the lack of a co-founder as a crutch to not start.
2. Select your co-founder like you would select your spouse
I’ve done two other startups with co-founders and for better or worse you are married to your co-founder. There are three must-haves in my opinion:
Perseverance – I had to be pretty sure that Ron was not going to give up when things got tough. I’ve had a startup where we got sued, and my co-founder essentially gave up.
Trustworthiness – The schizophrenic nature of startups means that you usually go through a gamut of emotions. I had to go into this having no doubts that Ron would have my back.
Divergent thinking – Both co-founders need to think about problems differently and bring different solutions to the table instead of always agreeing on the same solutions to every problem. OK, so this one is not like getting married…
3. You need to have been through shit together
You don’t know someone’s character unless he has been tested by adversity. This is why I am deeply suspicious of the trend of just throwing people together to create a startup Events like startup weekend or startup bus, to me, are “startup porn”. I just can’t see how throwing people together who have no commitment to each other will work. Friendships that were forged through adversity are usually the deepest ones. In the tough times of a startup, just like in marriage, it is often the promise that you will not let your friend down that keeps you going.
I don’t think anyone should be co-founders unless you have been through some shit together. Doing lobangclub feels like Apocalypse Now, and I am not sure if I am Willard or Kurtz after a while, so knowing that you’ve already being through shit is comforting.
4. Make sure you burn the boats on the beach
I was adamant about one thing: If Ron was to be a co-founder, he had to quit his job before he came on board. Ron was, quite logically, looking for a part-time role until we had traction. However, if we did this, and we hit a rough patch, as we inevitably would, then it would’ve been way too easy to just go back to the safe confines of a steady job.
Severing that safety net is a much bigger deal for us since we are not fresh out of university living with parents, both of us have partners, mortgages and children (OK, that’s just me).
5. No matter how well you think you know your co-founder, you don’t
Despite knowing Ron for 14 years, I think in this short time of being co-founders, I’ve learned so much more about him. The pressure-cooker of a startup basically reveals all.
I’ve learned that he is far more stubborn that I’d ever imagined.
He is also way more determined than I had given him credit for. Given that we are not paying ourselves any wages, he has serviced his own car, fixed his bathroom plumbing, rented out all the spare rooms in his house to exchange students and generally just found a way to keep going through all of our pivots.
I think the mere fact that we are able to make it to the third (hopefully final) pivot is testament to the importance of choosing a good co-founder.
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