Finding a Good Co-Founder

Many people have asked me in meetings how Phil and I got together to build BrightWork. A lot of are curious about how you pick someone you’re ultimately going to be married to through the creation of a business for the next 8-10 years. And while it may seem like companies come together rather easily, it’s really a combination of luck, perseverance, and patience. You can spend weeks, months, or even years getting to know someone enough to jump into business with them. You want to make sure they align with your values and are passionate enough about the business that they will stay engaged. So let’s talk about how this all happened for us.

Phil and I come from a pretty small town called Portland, Oregon. While the city boasts an incredible tech community, overall it’s pretty easy to get to know most people within a year or even a few months. The same could be said about how Phil and I got to know each other.

Like a lot of small tech communities there exists several meetups and gatherings of people who have similar interests. These include meetups that are technical in nature or just simply get together of people who share similar interests. Phil and I had met at a number of these events and, at the time, were working on different projects. He was doing some consulting work for various clients, and I was working for Twilio as well as doing some creative agency work on the side to help supplement some income for my family.

During these meetups, Phil and I would often talk about the various challenges we were faced with building out some of the solutions our different entities had produced for various clients. He had talked a lot about how building these platforms for his clients was a tedious process needing several hours of his time which would cut into project hours. Having built projects for various clients, we were having a similar problem. We also knew that, as a services company, we needed to build a product that could provide another source of revenue for our business.

As Phil and I were working on more and more projects, we began to see a pattern emerge. We knew that there had to be a more agile way for us to build the solutions we were building for our clients. Our group was thinking about how we could possibly make our solutions more modular so we could save time when we built out the different applications we were building. We also were thinking about what we could do to give our clients more visibility into how their applications were performing. So Phil and I sat down to really discuss what all of this meant. It took a few months and a lot of discussion, but after finally talking about how this needed to be built, I asked Phil to join BrightWork as our first CTO.

On a personal level I will say that there is always a lot of anxiety around finding someone you want to work with. I had gone through this before and it didn’t end well for a number of reasons. However, I knew that if we set up the right expectations, ensured we did this the right way, and paid attention to what we were doing, we could actually make a run at this. I will say though, it really didn’t completely sink in until we left for Techstars over the summer. And while the road has not always been shiny and perfect, Phil and I have figured out how best to compliment each other’s strengths and have learned how to work together to be more productive.

So if you are looking for a co-founder for your business, it’s important to think about some of the common mistakes that are made when trying to create your entity.

  1. Ensure you are both setting expectations about what your roles will be, how the equity will be divided, and what happens when things go pear-shaped.

  2. When things don’t go well, avoid creating a situation where the conversation can turn toxic. It’s easy to think you are doing more work than the other person, but you got into business for a reason. If you begin to go down a path of keeping score instead of figuring out how to work together, you have already put yourself on a path for failure.

  3. Be respectful to each other even in times of high stress. You may think this is a no brainer, but I can tell you that there is no worse feeling than getting into it with someone you thought respected you only to find things weren’t what you thought. It kind of goes along with the above point, but this really needed to be emphasized.

  4. Find ways to lessen friction in your work lives and balance them with life outside of your business. The best way Phil and I do this is by going out to dinner as much as once a week to just get away from the office and talk out things that we’re struggling with.

I could keep going, but I think that is a good place to start. Just remember that you need to think about what could go right, but also what could go wrong. Businesses are seemingly easy to get started, but they can be very difficult to dissolve if you’ve put yourself in a situation that is tanking. If you aren’t prepared for what is going to go wrong, you’re not going to be prepared for what can go right. Both Phil and I have built a structure that we believe gives us the best opportunity to win because we have always been very thoughtful about how we operate. We're excited about where we're headed because we both know BrightWork is a solution changing the way applications are built and we're providing real value for our customers.

Josh Carter

CEO/Co-Founder @ BrightWork (Techstars Chicago '16), ex-Twilion, Father, US Navy Vet.

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