When you found a startup, you go to war. War with corporate behemoths, crafty competitors, and countless naysayers. It's a grind that takes a lot out of you. And that's why you need a reliable, smarter-than-shit co-founder who has your back. That's also why, at 29 years of age, I quit my job and trusted an 18-year-old kid named Jared Browarnik with my life.
Let's add a little context. In late 2012 I was enrolled in the executive MBA program at Columbia and simultaneously working as an exec at MGM Studios. Things should have been great; I was growing both professionally and academically. But the truth is, I was far from content. I had a fire burning in my gut that was pushing me to start a company and build something great. My concept sat at the intersection of film and e-commerce, an area where I had strong domain expertise. The one thing I needed was a solid technical co-founder that could help get the idea off the ground. But whom could I trust?
Since I was at Columbia, I knew my best shot was to take full advantage of the school's talented on-campus network. After countless emails and coffee meetings, I happened across an interesting post from some freshman kid on a Columbia entrepreneurship message board. The poster mentioned that he'd made a few apps in high school, one of which had been downloaded several hundred thousand times. I was intrigued but figured there was no way this freshman CS student was seasoned enough to be my co-founder. Boy was I wrong. Jared and I met up at a campus coffee shop and he blew me away that day and has continued to impress me every day since. So what was it about Jared that allowed me to trust an 18-year-old kid with my professional life?
Self-Reliant and Self-Taught
"Look, I don't know how to do everything, but I can learn anything. If I get the urge to build something, I'll spend every free moment researching and learning until my lack of knowledge is no longer the barrier to building it."--Jared
That remark has hung with me since Jared stated it with confidence in our first meeting back in 2012. Since then, he has transformed himself from an iOS developer into a full stack Web developer into a bona fide CTO. When you're looking for a technical co-founder, it's tempting to think you need some seasoned developer with a mile-long rÃ©sumÃ©. But the truth is, ingenuity will trump experience nine times out of 10. Jared is a true autodidact. If there is one trait I can encourage you to look for in a co-founder, that is it.
Someone Smarter Than Yourself
If there is a second trait I can encourage you to look for, it's raw computing power. In our second meeting, Jared mentioned something about the Egleston Scholar program. I'd never heard of it nor been anywhere near the world of academic honor when I was an undergrad. As it turned out, Jared was an Egleston Scholar, a designation for the top 1 percent of engineering school applicants at Columbia. After a little more pushing, Jared informed me that he had earned perfect scores in both the verbal and math sections of the SAT. He clearly had the brains to take full advantage of his inclination for self-teaching. When you couple these two things together, it can create a force of nature within your startup.
While intellect and ingenuity are important, these traits are wasted if your co-founder doesn't share your vision and drive. The fire in my gut to start TheTake didn't really begin to burn until I was almost 30; however, Jared had experienced that same passion to build great products his entire life. In addition to the successful apps he built in high school, Jared had also founded a successful software development company with one of his friends at Princeton. Jared's entrepreneurial drive was as evident as his intellect, a trait that would become paramount when things got difficult further down the road.
Two years into TheTake, Jared has continued to impress me day-in and day-out. The thought that I almost dismissed him as too green blows my mind. He has since taken leave from Columbia and made an enormous impact at TheTake. After I convinced Jared to join the team, we cemented a deal to bring on our third co-founder, the equally talented Vince Crossley. I could have written this same article about Vince, but the headline "Why I Chose a Seasoned Designer and Product Manager With a Masters in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon and MBA from Columbia as My Co-Founder" just didn't have the same ring to it. The truth is, Jared and Vince share the same three critical traits mentioned above: ingenuity, intellect, and drive. If you're in the market for a co-founder, I suggest you make all three traits a must.