In Silicon Valley there is an odd phenomenon called “co-founder dating.” My phone will chime, and an email alert will draw me into the black hole in my pocket that is my iPhone, and I’ll see it’s an invitation to a Meet Up in San Francisco or New York to attend a “founder dating” event.

While many startup founders do date, and marry, other startup founders, this iPhone prompt is entirely platonic. It’s about finding a company co-founder-venturing to a venue where you can speed date your way around a room, asking questions like “Do you like diamonds or Ruby on Rails?” or “Do you prefer decaf or JavaScript?”

All puns aside, it’s about matching skill sets and bringing together composite teams to solve big problems. Chances are-if you’re like most people-your friends look an awful lot like you. They likely come from the same neighborhood, or school, or political party, or industry.

Birds of a feather all flock together. We’ve heard that one, but it’s true.

The technical term for it is “homophily,” or love of the same. Most people like people like themselves, perhaps because they reinforce beliefs and values and perspectives on the world. The trouble is, when you’re starting a company, this is exactly what you need to avoid.

If you’re a big picture thinker, you probably need a detail-oriented co-founder. If you’re deeply technical and focused on internal operations, chances are you need a highly charismatic external salesman as your co-founder, someone who knows the industry well. If you are a front-end web developer, you need a counterpart back-end engineer to scale. It’s all about balance, and founder dating can help bring together non-traditional matches. As the VC in the room, I’d recommend dating a bit before jumping into bed, but now I feel old.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same logic applies to parenting. Last week I was in Madison Square Park sitting under the metallic foliage art installation nursing a cold coffee with a good friend who is a repeat entrepreneur. He’s on his second startup, and on his second kid. I won’t reveal his name, but I started asking him, Albert, I’ll call him, how it was going.

Aside from the 2 am trip to the Emergency Room last night because of an eye-infection, all was well. I asked about he and his wife’s decision making in ambiguity, how they decided when something warranted going back to bed and when it meant a trip to the ER. After a long pause, his only response was, “I can understand why people get divorced.” Like a provocative SnapChat, or a notification from Instagram, this piqued my interest.

“What do you mean?” I probed. “Well, if we were getting married today, I hope my wife would select me like she would a co-founder,” he responded. “It’s about having balance, and about partnership, having your spouse be completely on when you’re down, and you completely covering for them when they need help. We are in an all-hands-on-deck startup right now, and you need your co-founder on the same page.”

Some parents are good front-end developers. They’re amazing at optics, keeping clean lines, and manicured style in-line with zeitgeist. They’re at the PTA, and they are the lead sales engineer, helping design play-dates and broad partnership engagement.

Other parents are better back-end engineers. It’s not that they don’t care about external engagement, but they’re focused on building out the internal logic, natural language processing, and systems architecture. They’re about designing defaults and biases, making systems redundant so that they are robust and helping build confidence in the organization. They’re the in-house math tutor, soccer coach, and bedtime story reader. They’re the one thinking about whether to use allowance as a reward, or no cell phone as a punishment, to set curfew or to simply advise the use of “good judgment,” as my parents did when I would leave for a night out.

And the best parents, like the best startup founders, are full-stack engineers. They are the rare birds that focus on both the front-end, and the back-end, and can tag in and out of every interaction, lead off, and play back up. These are the “Full-Stack Parents.”

And when parents need therapy, there's a startup for that called TalkSpace, where they can SMS their therapist. And when parents need a night off for romance, there's a startup for that called Trusted, that allows you to find, hire, and pay a trusted local babysitter.

Tolstoy once said that all happy families are the same; all unhappy families are unhappy for different reasons. What he left out is that all happy families are like all happy startups.

Published on: Sep 11, 2015
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