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Co-founder Half-life

Paul Graham spoke tonight at Harvard University. Whilst there were many interesting conversations raised, one in particular hit me. Like much advice, it's only truly taken on-board when given the right context.

Potential co-founders are radioactive. They have half-lives.

The number of people you'd trust with a start-up is already a tiny number. For each year that passes, those close friends and colleagues become more and more entrenched in the life they're leading. That entrenched life doesn't lend naturally to start-up life.

The situation gets worse as time goes on for both of you. A start-up is too much for one person to bear. The harder it is for you to find a co-founder, the harder it is for you to get rolling. The harder it is for you to get rolling, the harder it is for them to get escape velocity from their entrenched life.

In Why to Not Not Start a Startup, Paul Graham said that the first job for the few single founders that YC invests in is finding a co-founder. Those founders already had an advantage: the badge of approval from YC. Whilst Paul might have preferred for the co-founder to have bought into the start-up before YC, the validation provided by YC certainly makes it easier to revitalize potential co-founders who might have been claimed by co-founder half-life.

So what can you do to extend co-founder half-lives? The first option: don't be old. It turns out creating time machines or anti-aging serums is difficult however.

What about time invariant advice? Advice for both young and old?
Always be recruiting for your perfect team.

Contact those people you know you want as co-founders and tell them that. Even if you don't have an idea yet. Put the option in their mind. Keep it stirring about. Convince them with passion. Convince them with numbers. Remind them the type of team you are together. Half-lives have an exponential fall-off: even long after the optimal age, the possibility for escape is still there.

And most importantly of all, when an opportunity arises for your ideal co-founder to escape their entrenched life, make sure you've already started the job of convincing them.

Want to know a secret? This post is an implementation of the latter suggestion. Whilst written for a general audience, there's a token few people this is truly intended for.