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Questions to Ask Potential Cofounders: The Master List (founderdating.com)
82 points by jmalter on Dec 3, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 17 comments



I think these questions are awesome. As someone who lost one co-founder early on (there were three of us and one person quit right after YC), I wish we'd talked about some of this stuff more.

Having said that, I actually think in reality this conversation is very difficult to have.

If you've never started a start-up before you just don't know what to expect so some of these questions don't make sense. I would have WANTED to answer these honestly, but when I started HireArt I really had no clue whether I'd want to raise outside money (let's just get started was my motto) or which attributes we'd en up clashing on.

I think this makes more sense if you've started a company before and can anticipate the feelings and issues that will arise (but in that case you probably already know which questions to ask and don't need a guide).

Overall I guess I think it's really important to talk and to talk a lot. However, don't estimate how much there is that you just don't know about yourself until you're doing the start-up.


I agree that this is a super hard conversation to have. BUT, if you're working with the right people, I think they'll understand that a lot of these questions are "must-have" conversations. Might not get to all of them, but even some will be super helpful to at least orient the ship and crew in the same direction.


agree with both of you - not always easiest conversations, but they are important questions. As I say in the post, it's ideal to try to have a more natural conversation - not just go down the list. But sometimes you just have to ask tough questions - it's more awkward/painful to "break-up" down the road.


Nice Compilation. A few more views on this topic:

- From Elad Gil: http://blog.eladgil.com/2012/02/how-to-choose-co-founder.htm...

- From Venture Hacks: http://venturehacks.com/articles/co-founder-interview


This is such an important topic, you'd hope a thread with discussion and suggestions would get pegged to the top of the site. If this was a PHPBB, you'd want this to be one of the "sticky" threads.

Key questions (some overlap) from my experience:

* Are we the founders allowed to work with or advise any other startups or projects before XXX milestone in the company?

* What is the decision mechanism we will use to resolve intractable disputes, and why do we believe it will work?

* What is the mechanism by which a founder will be released from the team, and how will we engage it?

* How are we vesting?

* Can we make a list of every acquaintance we could ever possibly foresee hiring? How will we voir dire those people, so we aren't fighting over whose friends we're willing to hire?

* How many months of salary per employee will we need to add a headcount?

* At what point will we pull the trigger and start pitching our offering to customers? Are we waiting for a rev1 or beta release? Can we start selling now?

* Who apart from the dev lead will decide when it's time to "ship" or "sell"?

* How will we decide to "pivot" or give up on our original offering?

* If our idea fails, are we continuing as this team, or reevaluating? If we're not sure, how will we decide? How do we know we're giving each other honest answers?

* As we willing to add part-timers, juniors, or indefinite interns, and if so, how will we account for them?

* What level of agreement among the founders is required to fire an employee?

* Under what circumstances would we consider adding an employee to our "management team" or "cofounder pool"?

* Once we have a management team, will we continue managing it and the rest of the company as a group of cofounders, or will that conversation be vested in the management team?

* What resources will we spend on promotion and appearance marketing? Do we require a high-end website? Do we require a professional logo? Do we require business cards? Will we be attending conferences?

For me, I'd want a theme of my cofounder questions to be, "how do I know we're being honest with each other and really engaging the question"? Most important cofounder questions are easy to B.S., and B.S. answers buy you nothing; they may actually make things worse, either by needlessly committing people to positions or providing ways to hang people in arguments later. "Why do we think this answer is right?" "When would we reconsider it?" "How sure are we about this?"

I could make a list of answers I thought I was sure of last time I started a company (this one) that it turned out I was dead wrong about.


I agree that both lists are important questions to ask, but as you allude to in your last sentence, it seems like it's asking for a great deal of self-awareness.

Most people are probably just not self-aware to be able to accurately answer those questions (from things like the mechanics of how a future event should occur all the way to "are our values/work styles aligned").

Do you, or anyone here, have suggestions for alleviating that?


What's a question here you think would require an unreasonable amount of self-awareness to answer? (I'm not disputing that some of my questions do, I'm just curious).


A very good list. One minor quibble -- I've never worked for a company other than my own where the lead dev had any say over when products are launched, shipped or sold. And the more complex the organizational structure, the less likely developers were to have input.

Maybe replace with "who is doing what work, and how do we know when it is done. And what if the work doesn't get done?"


From Wikipedia for other curious non-native speakers:

Voir dire /ˈvwɑr ˌdiər/ is a legal phrase that refers to a variety of procedures connected with jury trials. It originally referred to an oath taken by jurors to tell the truth (Latin verum dicere), i.e., to say what is true, what is objectively accurate or subjectively honest, or both.


> ...an oath taken by jurors to tell the truth (Latin verum dicere), i.e., to say what is true ....

I've always been amused by this interpretation and wondered where it originated --- it seems like an urban legend --- because:

1. In legal parlance, the term voir dire refers to the questions posed to prospective jurors by the judge or lawyers to assess whether any of them is biased or has some other disqualification or disability.

2. The term voir dire is French: After the Norman Conquest, that term and a number of others gradually infiltrated the language of English courts [1].

3. In French, voir is the infinitive to see and dire is the infinitive to say; as someone who was bilingual in French and English as a kid (but, sadly, is no longer), I always took the term voir dire to mean, roughly, "let's see what they [the prospective jurors] have to say."

Fun fact: In Texas, you'd better pronounce it "VORE dye-er" if you don't want to be recognized as a noob or an out-of-towner. The rest of the country seems to use the French pronunciation "vwahr deer."

[1] http://www.michbar.org/journal/pdf/pdf4article756.pdf


It's shorthand for jury selection, in which lawyers from both sides shoot down the jurors they think are going to be unfavorable to them based on predictions from scant evidence; this is "Law & Order" law theory, by the way, not actual court-of-law theory, which I know little about. I just thought it was a useful analogy.


"Is your mind clouded by any kind of expensive leadership or self-help course, at the end of which you get to 'walk on fire' to test your renewed self-esteem?"

Yes -> run.

"Do you believe in any form of magical thought? Do you believe that Steve Jobs Himself watches over you from a cloud, without judgement, gently supporting each and every decision you make?"

Yes -> run faster, screaming.

True Story Bro.


LOL The problem with psychotics is that they can be so damn convincing. It's almost it's own filter for me: if this guy is so absolutely convinced that no argument is even worth considering, he's nuts. (Applies to women too).


The section on "Personal Priorities and Risks" is very important. Deciding when to go full time and how much each cofounder is willing to put on the line is something everyone needs to think about going into a partnership.


Really helpful to have this concise document...what a great list of things to consider about a partnership. So many of these are easily overlooked.


this is super helpful - so glad to have this as a resource + to see this being talked about.


website is not accessible for me, anyone cares to paste the questions here?




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