Startup Life/Opinion/

How I met my cofounders on a matchmaking platform

Cofounder searches can be a bit like dating — which is why matchmaking sites can come in handy.

Santiago Schmitt (left) and Damilare Ogunleye (right) are the founders of FoodLama.
Damilare Ogunleye

By Damilare Ogunleye

Many startup cofounders have interesting stories to share about how they met. From bonding as college roommates or former colleagues to surprise encounters leading to entrepreneurial adventures, I’ve heard them all. But I’ve found that meeting the perfect cofounder often happens when — and where — you least expect it. 

My founder journey began with the decision to migrate to the UK from Nigeria in late 2020. Having founded several businesses over the previous seven years, I wanted to throw myself into the UK tech scene. Secure in the knowledge that I didn’t want to build alone, I began searching almost immediately for London-based cofounders who shared a vision. 

From LinkedIn and events to cofounder matchmaking sites

My first stop, LinkedIn, yielded little success. People were reluctant to respond to cold messages, especially from someone outside the ecosystem and their network.

Next up: events. With lockdown 3.0 in full swing, I signed up for a host of virtual London tech events in the hopes of stumbling across the perfect cofounder. Where these events had immense value, their flaw lay in the difficulties of virtual networking. It was difficult to build meaningful conversations, and to, at the simplest level, connect. After a few tries, I tried something else.

Cofounder searches are often compared to dating. In both, you start with an intent to find someone you can connect with, you look for compatibility, and someone whose company you would likely enjoy alongside a journey. Enter cofounder matchmaking sites, the next place I took my cofounder search. 

After a lot of searching, the platform I had the most success on was StartHawk. I was initially hesitant because I feared that top talent was often best poached in real life, but my fears were allayed when I took the plunge. The platform showed me talent from across the world, each looking to join a future-shaping startup or build their own.

Connecting with my first cofounder

Most cofounder matchmaking sites follow the same format as online dating. You fill in your bio, and quickly explain what you’re looking for. It was actually my future cofounder, Santiago Schmitt, who first found me and sent a direct message on StartHawk. In his message he told me that he was looking for a partner who could help bring his idea to change the face of grocery shopping to the world. 

“Most cofounder matchmaking sites follow the same format as online dating”

The idea was simple, and his story was persuasive.

He had come from a family with a range of dietary preferences — he is allergic to corn and nuts himself. Online grocery shopping had always been a real challenge — from endless ingredient lists to broken shopping filters and poor product recommendations. Santiago wanted to build a product that would show users exactly what they could and couldn’t have as they scrolled through grocer sites (without having to click), and recommend the food best fit for their household. Even better: he already had a mockup.

Our first call was where we really connected. He shared his real passion to solve the problem, and I shared my own experience in food manufacturing and ecommerce. The idea really clicked.

After countless calls and email exchanges to establish clarity about how we were going to go about building this venture, as well as a long chat with our current chair, who initially started out as a mentor and adviser to Santiago, I was convinced I wanted to go on this journey with him. 

We find our third cofounder

The next task was finding a technical cofounder, as neither I nor Santiago had a technical background. I turned to the same platform where both of us had met.

I spent days scouring through hundreds of profiles of technical cofounders and eventually reached out to about 40. For some, I didn’t mention that we were already working on an idea. I simply asked to learn more about theirs. I wanted to position myself as someone who was as open to sharing ideas as listening to others’ ideas.

From my initial outreach, I whittled the number down to 10. First calls honed in further. I sought to learn more about their superpowers and kryptonites, specific tech skills and managerial experiences as well as what were their personal motivations at this stage in life. With a few more interactions and whittling down a list of immensely talented and experienced individuals, I discovered our (now cofounder) Anas.

“Every conversation we had was filled with excitement and speculation about what could come next. Santiago and I knew we had found our man”

He had an academic background in machine learning and artificial intelligence, was recently a founder himself and was already doing some personal research into grocery recommendation and product data. We both saw the vision, where we could start now and clearly how it could expand. Every conversation we had was filled with excitement and speculation about what could come next. Santiago and I knew we had found our man.

Here’s to matchmaking!

Funnily enough, I didn’t meet my cofounders in person for the next seven months, but when we did meet, it didn’t feel strange at all. They felt like people I had known for a long time.

I’ve been working with my cofounders for 16 months now, and while the road ahead is still long, I couldn’t have asked for a better set of partners to be on this ride with. Here’s to matchmaking!

Damilare Ogunleye is the cofounder and CEO of FoodLama

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