It's a question Y Combinator's Kyle Corbitt has heard over and over again: How do I find a co-founder? As leader of YC's Startup School, its free entrepreneurship curriculum, Corbitt found many aspiring founders wanted to work on a problem, but faced a roadblock when it came to finding a partner who they could build a company with.
That's why YC is unveiling a new way to help co-founders find each other. Its new co-founder matching service will allow founders to fill out profiles about what their interests are and what attributes they're looking for in a co-founder.
"We realized this is a problem a lot of founders face, particularly internationally," Corbitt said. "I think it's less of a problem if you've gone to Stanford or live in San Francisco where there's a stronger established network that makes it easier to find people, but our community is all over the world. We have startup founders in 190 countries."
There is also proof in the data that having a co-founder is important: Of YC's top 100 companies, only four went through the famed accelerator without a co-founder. (Those would be Ryan Petersen's Flexport, Blake Scholl's Boom, Aaron King's Snapdocs and Ryan Chan's UpKeep.)
A common match is non-technical founders looking for technical founders, said Catheryn Li, an engineer at YC who built the service. Founders also often narrow it down by geography, from "entirely remote" or "same time zone" to looking for people within a country or within 30 miles of their town. After founders match, YC sends them a survey and encourages them to work on a project together. It's even templated an agreement to help dodge co-founder disputes.
Already 4,500 people have used it, and over 9,000 matches have been made from people testing it within the Startup School community. Li said the median number of profiles someone goes through is around a hundred. On Tuesday, anyone will be able to sign up to be added.
Co-founder profiles on Y Combinator's matching service let people select their location preferences, job responsibilities and whether or not they're set on an idea.Image: YC
If it feels a bit like founder dating, well, it's not far off. There are companies, including one actually named FounderDating, that have tried doing this before. CoFoundersLab, which bought FounderDating, claims to have over 400,000 members. Founder2be had over 100,000 founders before it shut down in December. It now recommends people to try Stealth, another startup community for founders to find each other.
"It's also worth noting that any company who tries to monetize this will be clearly not super aligned with the objective, whereas, because our school's main mission is to make entrepreneurship free and accessible to everyone, it makes sense that we can make resources to really care about whether the companies are being made or successful," Li said. "We're not trying to monetize and make money off active users, or we're not selling ads. We don't want you to stay on the platform, even. We want you to actually find the right co-founder and go do something else."
Other venture firms simply advertise job postings. Greylock, for example, is currently hiring a technical co-founder for an ecommerce-related position and a data scientist to be co-founder of an enterprise B2B company.
YC, though, is going for scale with the hopes that some of the co-founder pairs end up applying to its accelerator batches. It started by testing the service within its own Startup School community and has already seen co-founders like an NFL player sign up, Corbitt said. The question now will be what happens when it's open to everyone. So far, YC plans to manually vet applications to make sure it's really entrepreneurs looking for co-founders.
"For any product like this, where the community is really important, we have to make sure to build trust in the community," Li said. "So we don't want to let on anyone who's soliciting leads for sales or a consultancy or even trying to hire. We really want to make sure that everyone you meet here is really looking for a co-founder."
That part, at least, is working. There are two companies going through its current accelerator batch that met through the co-founder matching platform, and it remains in YC's interest to create more. Around 10% of each batch is solo founders, "but when we look at the companies that do well in the long term," Li pointed out, you can count on one hand the number of solo-founder startups that top the list of YC's best companies. Today, the average number of people on a founding team going through YC is 2.3.
"Intuitively, it makes sense that starting a company is just so hard," Li said, "and you'll run into so many problems, that having someone with you, someone who may have complementary skills, someone who can be there with you for the ups and downs of your company is just extremely, extremely valuable."