Starting a company in the education industry is like any other industry — just way harder. It’s regulated. It can be political. The sales process can be slow, bureaucratic, and confusing. There are big entrenched incumbents. It can be harder to raise capital. Without capital, it can be harder to grow quickly, which… makes it harder to raise capital.
We are four years into building Swing Education, a tech-enabled marketplace that matches qualified substitute teachers with schools. So many people help make Swing go — investors, substitute teachers, schools, and employees, to name a few — but I can confidently say we wouldn’t have filled over 200,000 teacher absence days for our 2,000-plus school partners without two people in particular: Asha Visweswaran and Oz Feng, my co-founders.
I hope to tell you more over the coming weeks about how we launched Swing Education, what we’re trying to accomplish, what motivates us, how we raise funds, and much more. For now, I’ll focus on a topic that comes up frequently in conversations with aspiring entrepreneurs: co-founders. How do I find co-founders? What should I be looking for? What are the ingredients in a successful partnership?
Of course, not every founder will have the good fortune to start a company with longtime friends. But it’s incredibly important to have the right co-founder dynamics. Here are four things to look for:
1. Complementary Skills
Oz is the best engineer I’ve worked with, so despite the fact that Asha and I also had technical backgrounds, it was obvious that Oz should be our technical leader. Asha’s product orientation and operational background helped us hit the ground running. For recruiting and fundraising, I was able to tell the Swing story because of my education background (I was the tech director at a charter network for five years before founding Swing). My strength was in thinking about people, diversity, and inclusion from our earliest days.
2. Shared Sense of Humor
Asha and I both think we’re hilarious, and Oz is willing to charitably laugh along.
We all trust each other to make decisions independently. When you’re trying to move fast, you have to trust that other people are going to get to the right answers on their own.
4. Shared Work/Life Values
We all had kids within the first year of starting the company. As a team, understanding how important it is to put family first is what has helped me get through my wife’s most recent pregnancy, during which we spent six weeks in a hospital under close monitoring. This understanding is evident to our employees as well — about a third are parents themselves — and has helped keep the company not just running, but thriving.
There’s definitely a parallel to being a parent and starting a company: The possibilities seem endless, and things grow and change in unexpected ways. As a parent, you see some parts of yourself in your kids, but inevitably, they find their own way. As a founder, a part of you is always reflected in the company culture, but in order to let the company grow, you have to give more control to the people you bring on. And whether they are lifelong friends or newer connections, partnering with co-founders who share your values helps set your organization on a sustainable, cohesive, and productive path as you continue to grow.
I can’t wait to share more about our journey soon. If there’s anything you want to hear about, please find me on Twitter @edumiketeng or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Photo Credit: Swing Education