"This is too much." I had this thought repeating in my mind on a loop during the first session I ran at my startup Reto (now called Gabu). 11 out of the 10 things that could go wrong there actually happened. I was hosting a gaming session, but for starters, I couldn't manage to set up the server. Important note: our users are kids. Literally. And when 5-7 year-olds get impatient and bored, it's hard to turn back.
Gladly, I survived to tell the tale, though I remember thinking, in the middle of it, "this is too much. I will not be able to do this all at once, all by myself. I might need someone to help me steer this ship."
Do I need a co-founder? Where the heck do you find a co-founder? Is there a Tinder or something like that to find one? I told the thought to get lost. Until it found me again…
Latitud is uniting the best entrepreneurs, investors, and builders of Latin America's startup ecosystem in Vamos Latam Summit. Learn more about the event and get your tickets!
I was working remotely at Paypal, and managing to bootstrap my ‘side project’ when I joined Latitud. I wasn’t looking for a co-founder. Actually, I was just there to know how startups operate and how to leave my 9 to 5 corporate job in order to pursue my dream: work in something that could create a meaningful impact in people's lives.
That was my plan, but you know what they say about plans… I ended up in the same cohort (LF4) as someone who is as passionate as me about the problem I wanted to solve, and eager to work with me to push Gabu to be the next Latam unicorn.
Fernando Corral had just resigned from his job in Guadalajara at a highly successful startup to become a founder.
At this time, I had been working on Gabu for almost 6 months, and had already pivoted from a sports (FIFA) tournament company into a children's online security startup.
Little did I know, Fer was sure he wanted to pursue a project that could create an impact within the gaming market. We have been gamers our whole lives, and before even exchanging any words, we were following a similar path. At least in the same industry.
One day, while the 4th cohort of the Latitud Explore Fellowship was running, I received a message from Fer in my LinkedIn Inbox:
Latitud promotes a healthy and engaging community. I had received a couple of similar messages from other fellows, and I thought this could be another networking opportunity. So we scheduled the call.
Our first call, although friendly, was also super formal. We met over Google Meet. Fer was curious about the idea behind Gabu. How did the idea come up? What stage are we in? What does the team look like, if any?
And the most important one – drumrolls, please...
Fer - “Do you have a cofounder?
Mario - ”No, I don’t, man.”
Fer - ”Are you looking for one or open to the idea of having one?”
\Silence\ I wasn’t expecting this call to go this way.
Mario - ”Well, I haven’t thought about it. But, I’m definitely open to continuing talking, getting to know each other a bit more, and starting from there. What do you think?”
Fer - ”Sure, you know, I have a plan. Why don’t we continue the conversations going, maybe I can help you in anything you like (I actually had a LOT of things to receive help with at this time) And see how things evolve from there. Does that sound good? ...”
And so we did.
When they tell you that getting a co-founder it’s like having another marriage started to sound more realistic. At this point, we were… well… dating.
The plan started as Fer suggested. I found out he was super methodic with his schedule, which I appreciated. Only green flags so far.
We had a few hours a day to talk about the problem and existing challenges, and a couple of hours a week to drink a virtual beer, which we called: social hang out.
In this dating phase, you want to know your soon-to-be partner as much as you can. You don’t propose on the first date, do you?
Our method was simple yet effective and helpful. Fer created a table in Google sheets that he shared with me. We had a couple of days to fill it in and we'd later discuss our answers, through professional and personal topics.
First, we assessed how compatible our visions are, by giving each question below a % until the sum totaled 100%:
Then, we both answered and discussed these open questions:
We also wanted to know about our personal beliefs and ideas in the same matrix as above. So the questions we answered and discussed were as follow.
About me and what I am looking for in my cofounder to do the project together
About me and my cofounder on a personal level
We both took a handful of days in order to answer them. Then, we defined the order in which we wanted to tackle them in our first “deep” conversation.
The call went longer than expected (about 2-3 hours in total) but we wanted to be sure to discuss as much as possible and clear any doubt we may have. In fact, we went back to some questions a couple of days after because there were some pending topics or deeper questions from another answer.
But, in my opinion, this was the cornerstone of the decision of actually “getting married” – or at least, work our asses off together at Gabu for the next 10 years.
So, how do you choose a good co-founder? In a nutshell, deep conversations, full honesty, transparency, and openness did it for us.
We found out that even though we were different in so many ways, we aligned in things that we decided were critical to our business's success (professional and personal). This started to resonate more and more as a good idea to pursue.
In my case, I’d never had due diligence like this before to work on a project, which makes sense. After all, this is THE PROJECT of our lives.
We had a couple of virtual beers here and there, to help us bond and open our hearts regarding the toughest questions and conversations. In my own opinion, the toughest yet probably most important one was:
Who's the boss?
When I created Gabu, I only had one purpose in my mind: to create a positive impact for a cause I am passionate about while I can continue to have a work/life balance to enjoy and care about my family. So, when this question arose, I knew I didn’t have what it takes to be a CEO.
To be honest, not only was I unprepared for it, I also realized I didn't want it. I care about a good product (that was my background at PayPal), a great user experience, and a scalable infrastructure to have a massive impact.
On the other hand, I had Fer, who is financially savvy, has a background in business management and venture capital, a healthy and growing network, and – very important – was eager to pilot this ship.
This was his big shot and he was looking forward to making it happen. He was the right person for it. He deserved to be it. I wanted him to be it. So I made the (smartest, so far) decision to take a step back and let him take the steering wheel. I now have a co-founder and a well-prepared CEO, sweet!
To put everything on paper, we used a template of a founder's agreement. It included the following:
One thing was still missing, though:
"Dude, you need to quit your job"
At the time we signed the agreement I was still working full-time at PayPal. I needed to make sure I had enough capacity to pay the bills and sustain my family (now of three). But conversations with VC funds and angel investors started to be quite repetitive: “so… when will Mario be full-time?”
I knew the day would come when I had to fully commit. I didn’t actually know when it would happen. Fer and I decided that, as a vote of good faith, I would quit my job when we meet 80% of our pre-seed round target.
The day came quickly – good sign, I guess. It was a mix of excitement and uncertainty, but mostly the first one. I had my wife's support; she had always cheered me up, encouraged me to pursue my dreams and happiness. With my family on my side, I had more than enough. On his side, Fer had also his wife's and friends’ full support.
We were ready to go big or go home and we didn’t want to go home.
Even though both of us have been adapting to working remotely due to the global pandemic, we knew we wanted (needed) to meet in person.
Fer’s wife wasn’t quite sure I was a real person (half in jest). You know, catfishing is a thing and I don’t blame her. My wife wasn’t sold on the idea either. I mean, at this point, the only thing they knew was that we were talking a lot with each other. So we planned our first meeting in real life.
Fer and Ana Maria (his wife) packed their bags and took a plane to Guatemala City. Kelly (my wife), Sam (my daughter), and I welcomed them in Antigua Guatemala. Shit just got real!
We met at the airport, looked into each other's eyes, gave a solid handshake, a bro hug, a few nervous smiles, and said "let's go". We hung out for a couple of days altogether, had a lot of meals, beers, coffees, wine, laughs, and interesting conversations. It was a family match too!
Both of us were sure this was the second cornerstone of our decision to work together. Our families will also be involved in Gabu and we wanted them to feel part of it. The trip was a success and a delightful experience.
Disclaimer: I've started opportunities with friends of mine that didn't work as well. This relationship with Fer worked because we didn't start as friends – everything went smoother. Without any hard feelings or ghosts from the past, it was easier to talk about difficult topics.
Don't get me wrong, there are other things that we still don't see eye to eye. We need to meet halfway. We shared values, goals, and visions, and wanted to work together. So, as a jumpstart, we believed it was good enough to take the leap of faith.
We don’t share the same taste regarding sports, spirituality, and other topics – but still, with the solid agreement to communicate and follow our playbook, everything should run smoothly as can be expected. And let me be honest, so far so good.
If you are up to keeping up with Twitter hashtags such as #startups #remote, you may be familiar with the constant battle between whether it’s possible or not to be successful as a “hybrid” company. My take is: I don’t know. But we are giving it a try.
We packed ourselves with a set of tools like Gather, Discord, WhatsApp, and Google Workspace. We also decided on having a quarterly offsite week. The first one just happened in Guadalajara! This time, I brought my family with me, and now we are a team of 4.
It may sound easy, but working from different cities and getting to meet every once in a while has its challenges. We are working on our own framework to make it as simple as possible for everyone, but that would be a topic for another time.
If you’re looking for a co-founder, I encourage you to be open to any opportunities of sharing your project/idea. Be honest, be brave.
Remember that you are committing yourself to “marry” this person, so don’t be the person who either proposes or says yes on the first date.
Take your time. If possible, have a drink or cup of coffee together, or many. Talk, discuss and agree. Always look for an agreement. Don’t be scared to talk about the hard topics, the difficult ones. The earlier the better but be smart enough to know when it’s the right time.
And last but not least, surround yourself with people who speak the same language as you. Latitud was the perfect spot for us. I’m sure it could be to you too.