As I got ready to go out last night, I was putting on some lipstick (unnecessary for what I was about to do really) and looked at myself and saw this forlorn look of hope, anxiety, a dash of desperation. Is this what it feels like to really want to get married I wondered? To need a partner so you can have all the other good stuff that comes with it — kids, security, that intangible standing in society, someone to come home to? I’ve never wanted that. But I know now what it means to put aside any kind of idealism or hopes of grand collaboration to just find someone.
I need a partner. Not the kind you marry. But the kind you do business with.
Since I decided to go it solo and work on a start-up, I’ve been told that I have to have a co-founder. No one funds single founders anymore, especially a woman without a technical background. I’m now at an accelerator, which I managed to get into with neither a product, funding or a co-founder. But its time to pay the piper.
There are about 17 companies in the accelerator, and we are accountable for reaching certain milestones. Guess what one of mine are? The founders meet once a week to discuss their issues and share advice. Guess what my issue is week after week?
I sound like a cd that’s skipping in those meetings. I’m on staccato repeat. That whiny friend who can’t get a date. And strangely this feels like dating to me. The idea that you can find someone you can work well with, build something with, spend countless hours together and not want to kill feels as ephemeral as the smoke from the cigarettes I puff laying on my deck feeling like I should just give up.
But I can’t. I don’t want to fail before I’ve even started. So I’m ready to sign on the dotted line with a stranger who a CTO at one of the fellow start-ups in the accelerator companies tells me is brilliant.
We meet at the first avenue subway stop, and head on a long trek to find sushi. On the way there I probe, question after question to figure out who my would be partner really is. Brilliant – definitely. Are we a fit to work together? I have no fucking clue.
We end up in a crowded sushi restaurant by Cooper Union. I’m not hungry. Don’t feel like drinking, and there’s no room to pull out my laptop. So we keep talking about his background. I have a picture of who this person is. We talk about everything, except my startup and the ideas for it, and the vision for it, and all the things I feel like we should be talking about. There are pauses. I wonder if he’s meeting me to be polite or does he have any actual interest in this idea? I felt like we had more business ideas and chemistry in our fifteen minute phone conversation than we do sitting across the table from each other.
I finally ask, “So if you came on board, would you be able to build anything even if you don’t have a mobile background?”
“I wouldn’t do much building. I think you need to find a full stack mobile developer to come on board to work with you. And I can help you do that.”
Sigh. I’m relieved, but also disappointed. Mostly in myself. I need to raise money. And I can’t do that until I have a team. And someone is better than no one. The fellow founders at the accelerator have told me stories of breaking up with multiple co-founders. It happens. You keep going. I never thought I was the one with commitment issues, but this process has shown me that I clearly have them.
I have gotten so used to running solo – I’ve worked independently now for four years since business school in every role I’ve had. As a journalist, I almost always had solo projects. The best team experiences I’ve ever had were in b-school, and it was easy to put teams together for the projects I cared about. Of course there were ups and downs. Thinking back there’s only one person I would definitely want to work with again, and I think that says as much about me as much as it does about all the other teammates I’ve had.
There’s no such thing as a perfect collaborator or business partner. Just like there’s no such thing as a perfect soulmate. I feel like we all compromise on some level about something, any partnership if it’s to continue requires that.
I need to take the plunge. Dive into some ice. Drive to Vegas. And sign away some equity in a shotgun wedding. Whatever happens next is going to be a roll of the dice. But then isn’t the point of starting a business all about risk?