The 3Cs of Co-founding

How to find your 'flatmate' co-founder (TM)

Welcome to the first issue of Flatmate Founders, stories from two flatmates who are also co-founders.

Statistically speaking, more people have experience being flatmates than co-founders. It’s fair to compare these two ‘titles’ because both these relationships require you to practically live with the other person by choice (there are exceptions in the flatmate equation if you decide to move to cities like Berlin, but that’s another story for another time). There are way more similarities between these relationships than you can imagine. And in our experience being good flatmates was enough for us to figure out if we would make a good founding team.

Dafni and I first met digitally in 2016. We’d both been accepted to join the ESADE MBA program that year. It was just a matter of chance that we decided to be flatmates. What followed is a series of countless ideation sessions and side-projects in 5 different apartments in Barcelona and Berlin. In the end, we took the plunge to build Wonderpath, but honestly, we know we wouldn’t do all the hardcore company-building-thing without each other.

Building a business is a real rollercoaster of emotions. Here are the top events from the first few months of founding life:

  1. Everyone you meet either cheerleads for you or challenges you. Whatever happened to balance there, friends?

  2. Ultimate FOMO: You have to decline invitations to dinners and all those cool travel plans. The only time you’re glad to be in a lockdown.

  3. You heavily rely on Wolt and Gorillas to keep you alive.

Your attitude towards your business also fluctuates. Some days imposter syndrome hits you hard. One minute you’re the most confident person on the planet and the next you’re opening a bottle of wine thinking, what am I doing?

But things get better and start to look brighter when you know you’re in this together with someone else.

If you’re founding a start-up and have thought of potential co-founders to work with, ask yourself would you be flatmates with them?

The way this story unfolds is reverse for us. We started as flatmates and ended up being co-founders. 5 years of experience living together brought us to recommend testing the 3Cs and finding your ‘flatmate’ co-founder (TM).

1. Commitment

It’s no surprise (and no joke) that building a business together is a long-term commitment. You’ll forever be one unit for the investors, your customers, and eventually your entire team. If you Google the ingredients of a successful long-term relationship you’ll find all those things needed to form this co-founding relationship. Yes, it’s overwhelming to think of how to build trust, patience, and great collaboration. But don’t worry, we have you covered with an easy commitment test.

Here are some daily activities that are a good proxy of all those long-term commitment ingredients. Think of your potential co-founder and answer the following questions in yes/no:

  • Would you trust this person to cook at least a meal for you every day?

  • Would you take this person as a +1 to your parents’ home for a week?

  • Would you share your phone passcode with this person?

  • Would you share all your subscription accounts with them?

  • Would you agree on what show to watch the minute you land on your couch?

If you answered ‘yes’ to 4/5 questions, proceed to the next step.

In essence, you’ll have to trust each other, agree or disagree but take lots of quick decisions as a team, and have fun working together.

2. Communication

Our first team project was setting up our apartment in Barcelona. Project Maspons (our street in Gracia, Barcelona) was easy, we pooled in money and took a taxi to IKEA. We came back to our apartment and fixed up the place by deciding our game plan and splitting tasks. Ever since project Maspons was a success, we decided to apply the same principle in our household chores too: discuss the game plan, split tasks and conquer our to-do list.

It’s expected that your teammates/partners/parents/flatmates have different communication styles, different benchmarks for quality (especially important when it comes to cleaning your flat), different concepts of deadlines and time, but setting expectations and consistently following through creates trust.

And so half a decade of practicing this, we now work in perfect sync.

Funny story: Recently we were in a remote workshop, seated in different rooms filling out a canvas on Miro as a team. We really didn’t need to be in a zoom breakout room. Dafni and I magically color-coded our post-its and followed through with the exercise without having to discuss the game plan.

If you’re into sitcoms, our teamwork looks like How I Met Your Mother-style telepathic conversations.

3. Complementary skills

Everyone will recommend that co-founders need to have complementary skills. This is obvious if you’re building a health tech product and one of you is a healthcare professional and the other a software developer. But if it was that easy for you to find pieces of the puzzle lock this person in :)

For those who are non-technical co-founders (like us), and struggle to understand how your skills are complementary, you’re looking for a formula to avoid duplicating tasks and trust each other to own a domain that’s core to your future business.

An easy way to understand this from examples of our flatmate tasks and skills:

  • I can even kill a cactus, but Dafni keeps all the plants alive.

  • Dafni cooks pesto pasta, while I cook Asian noodles.

We take this a notch up in the business context. Dafni loves details, which is why she does the important detail-oriented tasks such as financial reporting and planning, legal and taxes, and product UI improvements. My natural style is the opposite of details, which is why I work on mapping scenarios, product, and marketing roadmaps, project management, and coordinating tasks. We use our natural styles to build a complementary set of skills and get things done.

The best way to find out if you’re a team with complementary skills is to pick a side project with your potential co-founder. Delegate tasks that feel natural to your individual styles. You know you’ve found the one when you know they did a better job on a task you’d never want/be able to do!

If you ask what’s really more intense than spending lockdown time with one person? It’s building a business with them. The good thing about having this flatmate experience is that we’re perfectly accustomed to co-existing in the same space during any and every kind of situation. In fact, we even enjoy long periods of silence. This is gold — especially when you want to work with someone all day you need to be okay with them being around all the time and still get your things done.

If you’re founding a start-up and have thought of potential co-founders to work with, ask yourself would you be flatmates with them?

PS: Our core job is building Wonderpath, but once in a while we’ll write here and share our learnings with you. If you’d like us to cover other topics in the ecosystem of co-founding write to us!

For more updates follow us on Twitter: WonderpathHQ, Dafni Chontou; Tanya Sharma

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