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May, 2010:

Startup Success Demands Close Collaboration – Revisited 3.5 years later

I originally published the following blog post on the Xobni company blog on September 18, 2006.

That was over 3 and half years ago. Xobni was still based in Cambridge, MA, my cofounder and I were still living on hot pockets and chips ahoy cookies, and we were sharing a bedroom in a friend’s apartment. It was during this time that I crystallized what is in my mind one of the most important truisms of founding a company; starting a company is like getting married and having a kid. Your cofounder becomes your spouse and your startup becomes your baby. You and your cofounder will learn to know each other just like an married couple. You’ll fight like a married couple. You’ll share successes like a married couple. And you’ll both care deeply for your startup, even though you may differ on how to help it succeed.

And now, that original blog post:

Startup Success Demands Close Collaboration (Sept 18, 2006)

People say that the most important decision you will make when starting a company is choosing a cofounder. It bears repeating. The commitment you should have to your cofounder is not unlike the commitment you make when you get married.

Today, while we were sitting at Arlington Diner eating our 3pm breakfast, we came up with five questions you should ask yourself before getting married. These questions are also relevant when starting a company with someone.

1. Are you great at things your cofounder isn’t?
It is important that cofounders exhibit complementary skills and common objectives. Identify your weaknesses and make sure those are your cofounder’s strengths. I want to spend most of our effort on perfecting the presentation layer of our first product, but Adam makes sure we invest in our backend code so it is easily expandable to future product lines. Adam is good at Adam stuff; I’m good at Matt stuff; together we are good at Xobni stuff.

2. Can you commit to a 2 year cell phone contract with a “family plan?”
Sorry Mom, but Adam and I just signed up for a family plan. There is something very permanent about signing a 2 year contract with someone you are not related to. The funny thing is Adam and I didn’t even hesitate because Xobni has many years ahead of it.

Side Note: We signed up for Sprint with the EVDO data plan. It is awesome. We each got a Treo 700wx which runs Windows Mobile. There were two motivations behind getting these smart phones. First, it is much more relaxing being away from your desk for an hour when you know you have access to all of your email anywhere you go. Second, many of our users are adopting these devices; it is important for us to understand this trend.

3. Can you share a bedroom?
If you can’t share a bedroom with your cofounder for a month, you probably aren’t right for each other.
Adam and I are currently sharing a room. Adam remarked the other day that it feels like summer camp. It reminds me of our first week back in the MIT dorms. This is not our permanent living situation and we appreciate that a degree of separation is healthy. However, we are temporarily living with our friends until we decide on a permanent location for our growing company. Sharing a bedroom is a temporary sacrifice for ultimately making the best decision for the company.

4. Do you trust them with a joint bank account?
Adam and I aren’t taking individual salaries. We put enough money into a joint personal account to pay for things like rent, food, and Adam’s voracious appetite for Edy’s ice cream and Chips Ahoy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. My personal indulgence is the recently discovered bliss of Bustello coffee. If you can’t trust your cofounder with your opulent salary of $1,200 per month, you are going to have trouble when the company bank account has more than three zeros.

5. Will you make dinner AND clean up afterwards if your cofounder is drowning in serialization code?
I don’t plan on marrying someone that even knows what serialization code is, but the analogy is valid. You are both going to encounter difficult challenges and it helps to have someone to lean on when stressful times arise.

I can’t think of any point in my life that will be more conducive to this type of commitment than right now. Remember, you are not just getting married, you are raising a child. We called our baby Xobni. Next installment: Xobni learns to walk.

Xobni’s 5 stages of growth & 5 pivots (preso from web 2.0 expo)

I recently had the pleasure of presenting twice with the leaders of the lean startup movement Steve Blank and Eric Ries. They’ve started a startup movement I’m a very big fan of. If you aren’t familiar with their work, I’d recommend reading their blogs. To concisely describe this movement we’re calling “lean startup” I’d liken it to a method of company building we’ve subscribed to at Xobni for a long time and that has only recently had a name. A Lean Startup is a startup with quickly iterating cycles of customer development and product development. Lean Startups stress product market fit before scaling and are characterized by a metrics driven culture and low cost experiments. I love this stuff. I can’t imagine building a company another way.

Today I spoke about Xobni’s lean startup tactics as part of the O’Reilly’s web 2.0 expo. The slides are below.