October 3, 2021
10
 min read
Fellowship Showcase

How We Navigated Co-Founder Search to Start Stir

Authors

Avatar icon
Kushal Byatnal
Co-Founder
,
Stir
Avatar icon
Joseph Albanese
Co-Founder and CEO
,
Stir
The post originally appeared on MikeWilner.com. It was republished with permission.

Authors

Avatar icon
Kushal Byatnal
Co-Founder
,
Stir
Avatar icon
Joseph Albanese
Co-Founder and CEO
,
Stir

Avatar icon
Kushal Byatnal
Co-Founder
,
Stir
Avatar icon
Joseph Albanese
Co-Founder and CEO
,
Stir

Investors

No items found.
After countless coffees, interviews, and failed “first founder dates,” a chance encounter over Slack led to the perfect team-up between Joe Albanese and Kushal Byatnal before their startup Stir was born.

Investor's note

This interview was originally from Carta's Fast and Curious interview series, check out the other interviews here.

Building a company comes with a litany of challenges, the scariest of which can be choosing the right co-founder. For On Deck alumni Joe Albanese and Kushal Byatnal, finding the perfect partner couldn’t have been more important. After countless coffees, interviews, and failed “first founder dates,” a chance encounter over Slack led to the perfect team-up, and their startup Stir was born.

One year later, they couldn’t be happier with their decision to work together. With big-name investors like YouTube superstar Casey Neistat and YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, Stir is rapidly making a name for itself as one of the hottest new startups in the digital media arena.

We sat down with Joe and Kushal to discuss their experience at On Deck, the pros and cons of accelerators, and their best tips and tricks for building the perfect co-founder relationship.

First off, guys, thanks for being here.

Kushal: Thanks for having us!

Joe: Yeah man, thanks so much. It’s great to be here.

Before we dive in, can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds?

Joe: Sure, yeah. We founded Stir together in early 2020 — prior to that, I had a background as a product designer for various different startups, and I also spent quite a bit of time at Facebook.

Kushal: My background is in engineering on the fintech side. I was at Google for about a year working on ads, and after that I decided I wanted to work on a smaller team. I ended up joining a startup called Brex, which was about 25, 30-ish folks at the time. At Brex I worked on everything from the credit card to the checking account product, and all sorts of things in between.

“The word creator, to us, means everyone from YouTubers to podcasters, course instructors, fitness instructors, and so on. They’re all creators in our eyes.”

For those who don’t know, what do you do at Stir?

Joe: Stir’s mission is to empower creators to run great businesses.

Our thesis is that these connected platforms that we spend all of our time on have basically enabled any person to create a business. When people start to become businesses – especially this unique type of business that couldn’t exist before – they have all kinds of different needs. The way they transact is different. The way they make money is different. The way they operate is completely different.

“We actually didn’t need to work together for a long time at all to know if it was a good fit. We just had to answer some very specific questions.”

We felt there was a strong opportunity to service these folks with tools that help them run their businesses. The way we do that is through management, payments, analytical and operational tools to help them get the job done.

Anyone that builds or maintains an audience online – whether through content or community – is someone we want to service. The phrase we use internally is “people business.” Sure, they sell content, but they also have this knack for bringing people together.

Kushal: The word creator, to us, means everyone from YouTubers to podcasters, course instructors, fitness instructors, and so on. They’re all creators in our eyes.

“I’d heard about On Deck, and I liked that they attract people who are at that stage in their life; there aren’t any questions around motivation, there aren’t any questions about timeline. The only thing you have to solve for is the fit — making sure that this is someone you want to spend sixteen hours a day with for the next ten years.”

Why did you choose to go the fellowship/accelerator route?

Joe: There are so many people in tech. But everyone’s at a different life stage, and wants different things out of their career. Being able to join a community that filters for other people with entrepreneurial aspirations is what really attracted me to it.

Kushal: It can be hard to filter for people who want the same things you want.

Joe: Starting a company is kind of a crazy thing to do. The accelerator environment gives you a space to find that perfect partner — that other crazy person who thinks the same way you do. It does a really really good job of doing that.

“Here’s what matters: Do you want to start a company for the same reasons? If you want to start a company to get rich, that’s fine…but you’d better make sure your co-founder wants to do that, too, because value alignment is the first thing to get stress-tested when things get hard.”

Why did you choose On Deck, specifically?

Kushal: For me, I’d heard about On Deck because both my roommates had gone through the second fellowship. At the time, I knew I wanted a co-founder. I knew that if I were to ever start a company, I didn’t want to do it alone.

I spent a couple months going through my own network, but there were just so many things that didn’t line up — whether in terms of skill sets, or timelines, or everyone just being at different places in their lives. I wasn’t able to find anyone in my network that would be right for taking this crazy jump with me.

I’d heard about On Deck, and I liked that they attract people who are at that stage in their life; there aren’t any questions around motivation, there aren’t any questions about timeline. The only thing you have to solve for is the fit — making sure that this is someone you want to spend sixteen hours a day with for the next ten years.

“The accelerator environment gives you a space to find that perfect partner — that other crazy person who thinks the same way you do.”

Joe: I really look up to the team that runs On Deck. I mean, look at how well they’ve handled their growth over the last year. What are they at, 70 employees now? That’s insane! Their team is really inspiring to me — for example, they took COVID, which could have hurt their business, and did such a great job of building a brand, and iterating, and testing. They’ve completely redefined what a fellowship could be.

What’s most impressive to us is how On Deck has grown without diluting the brand at all. They’ve kept the bar extremely high, and people love the program (including us). They’ve also fully democratized the network, which is extremely important for tech access. It’s incredible.

“I really look up to the team that runs On Deck.

They took COVID, which could have hurt their business, and did such a great job of building a brand, and iterating, and testing. They’ve completely redefined what a fellowship could be.”

How did you come together to start Stir? Had you met before joining the On Deck Fellowship?

Kushal: No, we’d never met before. The program is really conducive to meeting like-minded people, so I actually spent the first month-and-a-half of the program just trying to talk to as many people as I could. I probably had 50 to 75 conversations — but while I definitely found people who I respect as friends, for some reason I had trouble finding that “perfect match” to start a company with.

Then randomly, on a Sunday night, I get a cold DM from Joe. He says, “Hey, I’ve been sent your profile by three different On Deck people in the last 24 hours. Want to chat?” Basically, it was three people that we had both mutually talked to, who it didn’t work out with. Those people came to the realization that hey, maybe we should introduce these two guys.

Joe: (Laughs) It’s funny. The people who introduced us were people that it didn’t work out with. I guess we have a good referral system built in.

“I probably had 50 to 75 conversations. But while I definitely found people who I respect as friends, for some reason I had trouble finding that “perfect match” to start a company with.”

How long did you work together before you knew it would be a fit?

Joe: We actually didn’t need to work together for a long time at all to know if it was a good fit. We just had to answer some very specific questions.

If you’re choosing a co-founder, the big question you have to answer is: Do you want to start a company for the same reasons? Not the “right” reasons, or anything like that, but the same reasons. That matters. If you want to start a company to get rich, that’s fine…but you’d better make sure your co-founder wants to do that, too, because value alignment is the first thing to get stress-tested when things get hard.

Another important question to answer is: Does the partnership hinge on this particular idea? If not, it won’t work, because the idea is going to change a million times. If this one particular version of the idea is what makes the relationship solid, then good luck trying to make it work, because the partnership should be able to outlast any idea.

I think we were able to answer those questions pretty early on. We talked everyday. We were diligent about learning each other’s qualities. We made sure we understood what it would be like to work together.

“Does the partnership hinge on this particular idea? If not, it won’t work, because the idea is going to change a million times. If this one particular version of the idea is what makes the relationship solid, then good luck trying to make it work, because the partnership should be able to outlast any idea.”

You’ve built a successful co-founder partnership, which is hard (to put it gently). What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are struggling to find the perfect co-founder?

Joe: Okay, you have to do this one thing — you just can’t work with somebody if you don’t do this first.

Kushal: (Laughs) Are you talking about…?

Joe: Yes! There’s this article on First Round, a co-founder “dating playbook” that was written by Gloria Lin. It’s a questionnaire, basically 50 questions that tell you if you and another person would be good co-founders together. Kushal and I literally sat and went through each question, back and forth, and it was huge for us.

That would be my biggest piece of advice. If you’re starting a venture-backed tech company, you have do this exercise and answer these 50 questions. It goes back to the value alignment that I mentioned a second ago — it’s okay for you to be honest about your reason for starting a company. There can be a million reasons. But these questions help you make sure you both have the same motive.

Kushal: I have three pieces of advice, actually. First – and On Deck was obviously really helpful with this – I think you have to work in-person with someone before you can really know if it’s a fit. At least for me, that was pretty important. One Deck allowed us to to connect and dig in fast together, and just working with each other closely it didn’t take long for us to realize, oh yeah, this works.

The second thing…to be honest, once I became a founder, I now think it’s crazy that I didn’t look for this in the early days. But it’s important to look for someone with complimentary skill sets to you. Really ask yourself: What gives you energy? What are you good at? What excites you? The thing I’m most grateful for is the fact that Joe and I are good at different things, and that we enjoy working on different parts of the company. The company benefits from that diversity of skills.

Third is a mistake that I personally regret. The standard advice is, “Don’t quit your job until you have a plan, and know what you’re working on.” For me, following that advice too much was a mistake. If I could go back, I would have made finding a co-founder and building Stir my full-time job much sooner. Otherwise I might have never done it.

“It’s important to look for someone with complimentary skill sets to you. Really ask yourself: What gives you energy? What are you good at? What excites you?”

Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot

More From On Deck Stories

How early Ethereum employee Robbie Bent transformed his obsession into a business

Founder: Founder, Inward Breathwork

ODF created a powerful flywheel for me and my business. Now my mission, and what I want Inward to be, is extremely clear.‍

How June went from an Idea to a $2 million Seed Round

Founder:
"I want to share June’s playbook going from 0 to 1 as a B2B SaaS startup, including: 
  • How we got our first user
  • Why you should understand your customer before you building a landing page
  • How to implement your user-research findings 
  • How to launch on Product Hunt and Hacker News"

How Amy Yin Built the OfficeTogether MVP for Paying Customers in 4 Weeks

Founder:

At On Deck, I attended intimate sessions with other founders about both their successful and unsuccessful journeys. I got so much energy from writing code for the hackathon (I built OfficeTogether’s MVP in Airtable!) and I also met so many people in 1:1 meetings who had just made the leap. My experience at On Deck gave me the courage to leave my job and start my own company, which was hard given how much I loved Coinbase.

More from On Deck Stories

See more articles

How On Deck Helped Secureframe Find Early Customers

October 3, 2021
4
 min read
Natasja Nielsen
Co-Founder and CTO
Shrav Mehta
Founder and CEO

How Joining On Deck Clarified My Next Career Transition

October 3, 2021
5
 min read
Ann Ferracane
Investor and Advisor at Patch Ventures | Fmr. Head of Growth, Lyft

ODNC Fellow Showcase: Marcus Woxneryd

October 3, 2021
5
 min read
Marcus Woxneryd
Founder Venturism.io | Owner ustwo.com

How On Deck Served as a Catalyst for Me to Leave My Job

October 3, 2021
 min read
Luba Yudasina
Founder, Life of Luba | Fmr. PM/SWE at Airbnb

How to Find a Co-Founder Through On Deck: Skritswap's Founder Playbook

October 3, 2021
20
 min read
Melissa Kargiannakis
Co-Founder and CEO
Carolyne Pelletier
Co-founder and CTO

ODNC Fellowship Showcase: Vensy Krishna

October 3, 2021
5
 min read
Vensy Krishna
ODNC1, Candidate Operations Lead at On Deck
See more article

Ready to apply?

On Deck Founders
is a continuous community with a 4-week immersive onboarding to help you build lasting relationships from Day 1.