Dont look for a co-founder. Find a Right Hand Man

In my first startup, madhouse, I had two co-founders. Before madhouse I worked at a couple of startups, which also had more than one founder. So when I started Morpheus, I did not have any first hand prespective on single founder scenario. At morpheus, I have worked with a number of such startups and developed a good understanding of this scenario. Interestingly some our most succesful portfolio companies have a single founder.

Very often I meet single founders who have business background & are looking for a tech co-founder or tech founders looking for a business guy to come onboard as a co-founder. In a good scenario co-founders know each other for some time as good friends / colleagues / classmates / cousins etc, they all want to do a startup. They get together before the idea is finalized and get started. In scenarios where this does not happen – looking for a co-founder is a bad idea. Good idea is to look a Right Hand Man (RHM).

  • RHM is someone who is quite capable (& willing) of contributing to a start up in its early stages not only in his field of expertise but across the board
  • Basically a rock star
  • He is not a guy who will go all the way and start his own company in the near future
  • But he is also not someone who can be happy in a run of the mill corporate job
  • He has many traits of a startup founder
  • He is restless / wants some adventure / can handle the startup uncertainly/ wants to really contribute/ wants to learn / try new things/ brings ideas
  • He will be fine with a survival salary 20-30K INR a month (would love for someone to sugest a USD equivalent this amount) & 5-10 % equity (which is vested over 3-4 years)
  • He should be more than just a developer or sales guy or ops guy. Basically good for his primary role but also capable of contrubuting to other parts of the startup
  • If you are single founder with business background you need to of course look for someone who has the skills of making & delivering the product (or service) that your startup plans to sell
  • If you are a tech founder who has skills of making & delivering the product (or service) dont look for a business guy. Instead you should also get someone who will first take up “making”.
  • So if you make a tech product get a lead developer who can also do other things  
  • Since you have the skills of making, you should make the initial few versions of the product yourself
  • Once you get the RHM you can do a handover but still run the product from the top as an architect or even contiue contributing to making
  • But sales is something you are still figuring out as a company & the founder needs to be incharge of sales (don’t ever get a guy to run sales unless you have figured it out yourself)
  • Now that u know who you are looking for, write a nice / exciting job description & post on your company blog 
  • Post the link on various relevant forums : alumni network mailing lists / other mailing lists / forums/ twitter / free job sites / social networks etc
  • Best place to look is into your own network for references – class mates / juniors / cousins / friends
  • Also you should consider getting interns from good colleges where they have 6 months internship. The probaility of them coming on board full-time after graduating is pretty good / since they would have learnt about you and your startup during the internship period
  • Hangout at meet-ups / tech events and similar places where you can run into such people. Online you can hangout at Hacker News
  • Maintain a honest blog about your experiences so far – that is very likely to attract a good RHM.
  • Send me the link to the post I will be happy to spread the word!

  • Surendra Chaplot

    m beginning to like ur blog more and more with every post…really inspiring…best place to come and read whenever facing a motivational issue…

  • Sameer Guglani

    Thx chalpot for the nice words

  • Jyoti

    Very nice blog. Being a single founder, I always used to envy the startups who started off with a team of co-founders as I always felt they have more brains to think & hands to work, all with the same passion in heart. But after reading your blog, I felt a little better that all is not lost :-) . Completely agree that it is quite difficult to find a co-founder if you did not start with one. But hunting for a RHM seems quite doable. I do realise that an all rounder RHM is quite essential for a single founder as it gives him/her more time to think over business strategy & growth as the RHM is handling the day to day operations. Am going to start writing a profile for RHM immediately. :-)

  • Sagar Bedmutha

    Quite helpful points… We had discussed a few in our meeting :) Got rest here..

  • Shashi Singh

    Absolutely, though I must say finding the RHM is easier said than done. I have tried doing this and I did get some interested people, but none of them finally joined. Even though the monthly salary offered was in the range mentioned by Sameer. So I continue alone for the time being. But another person IS needed. Even if you outsource your work, you have to be on their heads constantly to ensure that work is getting done according to set timelines and quality. For me, I found switching from bashing a guy for work not finished to sitting and coding for the next few hours quite difficult. There are just too many things and unfortunately the mind is not like a computer that you press alt-tab and all the focus switches instantly to a different task. In such cases, a RHM is definitely needed. Also there has to be someone to discuss day to day runnings of the startups. I tend to have Eureka moments when I am explaining a problem to someone, but somehow it does not happen often when I think through it alone. What I mean to say is if the RHM could take 10% of my work, I could be 30% more efficient. Just some thoughts.

  • Shashi Singh

    “But sales is something you are still figuring out as a company & the founder needs to be incharge of sales (don’t ever get a guy to run sales unless you have figured it out yourself)”This point stands out from the rest

  • hardikr

    @guglanisam describes the perfect employee. Call him co-founder/RHM/CEO/CTO or whatever. Startups need such employees

  • Pranay Srinivasan

    Hey Sam,This is a great article that found a lot of resonance with me because my startup, Sparkle evolved on very similar lines. Ofcourse in my case, I was not necessarily looking for expertise but more of an attitude to help manage my business.. and as you said, an entrepreneurial mindset but not someone who wants to start up his own company.We found an RHM who is EXTREMELY similar to the qualities you mentioned (I pay him 25k) and he has run his own business in the past but is quite adventurous in nature.While he has all the assets, rather than vesting 5-10% equity, I am cutting him in on rather generous commissions on sales he manages (that I pitch), and also in the future on deals he may bring in..Cheers,Pranay

  • tarkeshwar

    The all yellow color here is painful to look at.

  • utekkare

    @tarkeshwar: Wow! that IS profound. Can i write that advice down and use it on my friends?

  • tarkeshwar

    @utekkare well..the comment is intended as a feedback on color scheme of the blog. Sorry if it sounds otherwise. I think UX is important, not just content of the post.

  • Tarun Varma

    Sam – well said and I am inclined to agree with a comment up there that says you’ve defined an ideal startup person not a RHM / CTO / co-founderAlso, the moment you slot someone as a RHM – how do you manage his / her expectations once the uncertain ‘can-i-lean-on-you’ period is over? Managing such immense talent and channeling it is tougher than finding it.

  • chaitanya arora

    Hello My name is Chaitanya Singh Arora. Im 24 years of age,founder at Penchant India, a organic cotton garment and accessory export company.Details about my company can be checked on the URLs mentioned below.I started my company in 2006 after dropping out of college and have build it into a one stop shop for all small online retailers and importers,i also help international start ups in my field.What i know is all through hands on experience as initially i had no know-how about running a business and strongly believe practical knowledge is what makes a company run, have had major successes and major failures but have somehow managed to sail throughI was also offered PE funding in 2009 after i was one of the finalists at the Power of Ideas, organized by ET. But refused as did not want any outside funding and wanted to run and fund my own operation through internal accruals.Penchant India is running successfully for the last 4 years with exporting to more than 8 countries and it began with absolutely no funding but through credit from my supplier and the profits were pumped back into the business in order to grow. I am also working on start a Film and Television production company by Mid 2011.I have vast experience in starting and running a company without funding, but there is a void inside which is pushing me to explore new opportunities. Came across your blogs and website and also read up on Start up gurukol which i think was a great idea and i myself was planning to do something similar in New Delhi. Venture capital and funding is something i always wanted to learn but could not due to commitments to my own venture,i also got an opportunity to work for a Early stage venture capital fund in UK in 2007 but as i was in the process of building my company i had to refuse, but i think i am at a stage when i can move out and explore possibilities of working with a VC firm or a start up incubator . Yours being a young growing company with a great portfolio and background,I was wondering if there are any openings or opportunity where i can work for your company. Im ready and very able to do everything from making tea to dusting the table to pitching ideas to VCs just to that i can learnI await your reply and would love to meet to discuss ideas and also explore the possibilities of working for your companyRegardsChaitanya Singh Arora+91 9810319384

  • Vasundhar Boddapati
  • Vasundhar Boddapati

    Sameer,Brilliant Practical Usable and Most Essential.Thank You.