What happens when two people decide to start the exact same social impact company at the exact same time? What if those two people are living in different cities, countries, and time zones? It might depend on if they are Impact Hubbers or not. Because that’s exactly what happened to me early in 2013. The idea was an online, on-demand, education company focused on social change. It’s like Coursera or Udemy – but just for the social sector. My company was called School for Change. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, Impact Hubber Jessica Lax was starting up her own project. She called hers Change School.
It was almost too perfect to believe: Jesse and Jessica, both working on education program for Impact Hub, and trying to start School for Change and Change School. This had to be some sort of crazy US/Canada parallel-social-change-universe. What happened next was testament to the power of collaboration and serendipity. The story is simple. We were introduced by a mutual acquaintance and Impact Hub member (thanks, Vinod) and realized our work and purpose were perfectly aligned. So we joined forces, and started the company together.
Easy, right? Not quite. Turns out, collaboration is more a state of mind than anything. Impact Hub’s special sauce of culture teed up our partnership long before we’d even met each other. Here are the 8 things that led to a serendipitous, collaborative, and fun co-founding experience.
1. Find your people – Your tribe of changemakers is out there. Find them. They are the people who will make the connections that lead to finding an investor, your next hire, or in my case, a co-founder.
2. Have a “right-place-right-time” mindset. I met Vinod Rajasekaran for about ten minutes at a conference. I didn’t hear from him for six months – and then the email connecting me to Jessica popped up in my inbox. You never know where synchronicity will find you, but the secret is to believe that it could be anywhere, anytime. Maintaining an excited openness to others is critical.
3. There’s no such thing as competition. The first time that Jessica and I spoke, it would have been easy for us to view each other as threatening competition. But we didn’t. Instead, we were overjoyed that somebody else was working on the same problems we were. The last thing we need is a lot of people re-inventing the wheel. Work to turn the idea of competition in real opportunities for collaboration.
4. Play well with others. After that first call, Jessica and I started talking weekly to share what we were working on. There was no agenda except to get into the sandbox of this big problem we were working on and to play. Small actions can build trust and shared vision that become fundamental to a company.
5. Take baby steps. Co-founding a company doesn’t happen all at once. It took us three months of collaboration to decide we were all in. We started with a small project and evaluated how we were working together at every step. Do not start with a 5 year strategic plan – instead test the waters with a project that will take a few weeks.
6. Get comfortable with technology. The distance between SF and Ottawa seemed daunting. I got over it. Good co-founders are hard to find, and technology makes it possible to collaborate easily. Distance is no longer a good excuse.
7. Sleep on couches. – Last month, I spent five days with Jessica hashing out strategy, x-country skiing, meeting her family, and hanging out at Impact Hub Ottawa. #7 notwithstanding, it’s a good idea to spend real-life QT with a partner before you dive into a venture together.
8. Seal the Deal with a Hug… er, Handshake – The work we do as changemakers is business and heart centered. Your relationship with a co-founder should be the same. You need to be able to sit down for a beer, joke, and, yes, hug out when the going gets rough.