Over the past four months, I've been documenting my journey of releasing my first SaaS application Novelty, a Facebook advertising website for Etsy sellers. It's been a lonely journey, to say the least. Until recently. I soon realized I needed a co-founder, co-worker, or maybe just a friend to help push me through the process. So I found one and it's changed the way I look at starting a business.
I've quickly learned the struggle is REAL when releasing your first product into the world. As a first time founder, your mental health is key to success. It's important to not walk alone. It's important to rely on friends and family, and it's important to find a partner, even just a friend who's on a similar trajectory. You might be saying to yourself, "naaaah, I'm good. I'm resilient! I don't need any Subway chefs in my Michelin star kitchen". Or maybe, "I've tried to find a cofounder but I can't find anyone...". I'm here to tell you, knock that kind of thinking off. If you don't, then you might find yourself wondering why it doesn't seem like you're making any headway. Your product might start to seem boring, unidirectional and unimportant, and worse still, it may be true!
IF ONLY THIS... THE REASON YOU NEED TO FIND A COFOUNDER/FRIEND: VALIDATION
You're a specialist. Remember that. If you also happen to be a Jack of all trades, well then OK! Even if you are, most likely you're stronger at one skill rather than another. So find the Ying to your yang and validate the side of the business you have less experience in. Give that person as much space as they need to poke holes in your marketing copy, icon design, database architecture, security, you name it. Just find someone who is going to give you honest, no bullshit opinions of your work. A partner can help provide that.
Develop, get feedback and iterate is your model and you can start practicing this model with your newly acquired cofounder. Eric Reis from Lean Startup phrases it as the Build, Measure Learn Feedback Loop. Try and get through this cycle as fast as you can with your co-founder on a weekly basis. Work on high priority items early in the week, measure results midweek and recap over a beer on Friday. Just don't forget to jot down some notes before ordering that second beer!
MOTIVATION. IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO
Sometimes my wife has to remind me to get out of bed. She rolls over and drives her nails into my side, "hey, weren't you supposed to get up early and work out? You said that last night while knee deep in Cheetos playing Assassin's Creed". Motivation comes much easier when you're reminded. We all need someone to kick us in the ass once in a while, and if you don't then congrats, you can stop reading this paragraph and continue massaging your ego. When you find a co-founder you start to feed off of each other's motivation. It becomes palpable and you'll begin enjoying working together. Bounce around ideas, showcase your new design, show off your latest feature, read each other's writing... It almost becomes a competition but in the end, you both win. Once you're comfortable with showing off to your new co-founder you'll seek validation elsewhere. You'll begin to look for ways to showcase your product in front of more people. Luckily there are tons of meetups and conferences happening every week, and with a cofounder, these are a lot easier to get motivated for. You can hold each other accountable, prepare pitches, talks and slides much easier. At the very least it's someone to grab a beer with before the event. Simply put, events are less stress and more fun with a friend.
IT'S EASIER TO FIND A CO-FOUNDER THAN YOU MIGHT IMAGINE
Simply attend any meetup and you'll find tons of designers, marketers, developers and product people trying to start something. Or just do what I did and respond to Upwork job postings and maybe you'll luck out with finding someone local that you can work well with. The hard thing to decide after you find a co-founder is figuring out who's project to work on. Odds are you'll both have ideas and they likely won't intersect. So who cares? Work on both and see which one sticks. Offer each other what you're good at and after a while, one idea will prevail as the clear winner. Worst comes to worst you trade expertise and make a friend.
The good thing about seeing this relationship through the lens of a friendship is that it can remain casual. Look, if you don't feel like chatting on Slack or meeting up for coffee, then don't! Don't force the relationship, just like you wouldn't force a new friendship. People give too much of themselves upfront when finding a co-founder. No wonder they burn out and no longer what to work with each other. You don't need to be in constant contact with your best friend, right? With that said, don't be a wallflower either. Reach out, ask questions, provide solutions. Try and keep the balance even on both sides. If one of you is asking for way too much way too often, then tip the scale! Start asking you're own favors. It doesn't have to be a competition, but the idea is you both provide value. Make sure you're getting some.
LET THINGS DEVELOP
The point being, treat your cofounder like a friend. When you do this, things tend to work out. Unlike code, design or marketing you can't rush the solution. Relationships and respect have to be developed over time. There has to be an unconditional admiration that is established and the only way to build that is by starting with a friendship.