How to evaluate startup co-founders based on testing their leanness and agility skills?


My guess is as in most cases existing relationships and/or validated relevant past experiences are a great start, but wondering on a ad-hoc basis what the best way to evaluate startup co-founders based on testing their leanness and agility skills; think of it as speed dating format, or a standardized employee candidate test.

Just to be clear, by leanness I mean "lean startup ", and by agile, to keep it simple, I mean a SCRUM based product/service development life-cycle. That said, there's nothing new about how important it is to be able to learn and adapt, and it's my understanding that these skills and related experiences have always been valued within the greater start-up community.

Also, while a qualitative methods would be nice, quantitative methods might just be as good, if not better -- in part because this would make it easier to evaluate a wider pool of possible co-founders. I would also guess that this question applies to investors in startups too, since knowing how fast a team is able to learn and adapt is very important in most cases.

Co-Founder Hiring

asked Mar 2 '12 at 06:33
Blunders .
899 points
  • Hiring people who follow only your dogma is a mistake. These fads change constantly and do you really want someone who just reads the hip blogs and regurgitates the lean stuff they hear? – Tim J 12 years ago
  • @Tim: Unsure how to respond to a comment that appears state that skills related to learning and adapting are not import, or a fade; which is not to say either the lean-startup or SCRUM approaches are not fades, but they're referenced because that's what people understand. If wanting to work with people that understand and have used agile approaches is wrong, then I'm okay with being wrong. Honestly it appears you did not read my question, which I'll assume is not the case, but it's none the less puzzling what the basis is for your comment. What am I missing? – Blunders . 12 years ago
  • What I read was that your primary concern is to test partners/founders for how closely they adhere to the latest lean startup fad. That's it. And I question that "wisdom". – Tim J 12 years ago
  • @Tim: No, that's not the case -- and why I had this statement following the references to lean-startup and SCRUM: "there's nothing new about how important it is to be able to learn and adapt, and it's my understanding that these skills and related experiences have always been valued within the greater start-up community." If you really believe adding the references to lean-startup and SCRUM takes away from the question then I'll remove them. Thanks! – Blunders . 12 years ago
  • the title of your question uses the lean/agility buzzwords. – Tim J 12 years ago
  • @Tim: Believe you're projecting, lean and agile are not buzzwords; this based on my knowledge of the two terms use over history, and ngram analysis I just did on [Google]( for related terms on the subject. – Blunders . 12 years ago
  • Suit yourself - believe what you want. – Tim J 12 years ago
  • @Tim: I will, but not because I'm hard-headed. Guerrilla warfare can be traced back to Sun Tzu, in his "The Art of War", which dates to the 6th century BCE, and I don't believe it's a stretch compare guerrilla warfare to lean/agile; which is one of many historically related references, which might also include: "lean manufacturing", "lightning warfare", "Energy–maneuverability theory", etc. The concepts related to lean/agile have been, and more importantly will remain one way of engagement, especially within the domains of business and warfare. Cheers! – Blunders . 12 years ago

3 Answers


Forget speed dating and forget standardised employee candidate tests.

When you find someone you think you might want to work with, the only way to know if they're a good fit, is to work with them. And eat with them. And drink with them. Hopefully you'll disagree with them, maybe even have a fight too. Once you've done that lot, and you're still having fun - you found your co-founder/employee.

answered Mar 2 '12 at 09:32
Nick Stevens
4,436 points
  • Yes, that's the correct answer! I used to say, for co-founder dating, work with them for 1 month. That's how long it takes to tell the difference between the talkers and the doers: Raynaud 12 years ago
  • @Nick Stevens: I checked your 74 answers currently on the site and was unable to find any reference to lean or agile. Have you ever used either of these approaches? Also, your answer does not state how you reach the point of going from meeting a random person, to selecting them as someone to work with, which is the point of the question. – Blunders . 12 years ago
  • I used lean for 12 years in manufacturing and supply chain, and the past 3 years in startups, along with agile software development including "Scrum but" and geographically disparate development. As for meeting people, you meet random people - that was not part of the question. You meet people every day. If you're not finding the person, meet more people. Go to a Startup Weekend, or a Hackathon. Go to wherever is is that the people you need hang out. – Nick Stevens 12 years ago
  • @ Nick Stevens: Okay, thanks for the clarification, that's of use to know you do have experience with lean/agile. Agree it might not have been clear, but the reference to "on a ad-hoc basis" was meant to mean I would not be using "as in most cases existing relationships and/or validated relevant past experiences" to judge how fit the potential co-founder was. (Please note that if you don't put Blunders, your comment doesn't ping my inbox, and I've got to manually notice you've replied by loading the question and review the entry page for changes which might include a comment from you.) – Blunders . 12 years ago
  • +2 @ Nick Stevens: Agree about the startup-weekend/hackathon, it's in fact the only format I've thought of that would help simulate in a meaningful way how fit someone was, though the only problem is those events are not designed to evaluate startup founders, and normally as far as I'm able to tell; if startups are judged, it's as a team, not on an individual basis; which is to say, you're only getting to review a very small number of people in an irregular way. Currently my thought is to start one myself that accounts for this in the format, which in fact was the origin of the question. – Blunders . 12 years ago
  • @blunders Forget about being judged at the event. Do your own judging of the people you work with, while you're working with them. Besides, you'll also meet a bunch of people that you don't work with. You can continue talking with them after the event. – Nick Stevens 12 years ago
  • @Nick Stevens: Selected you as the answer not because your answer in my opinion answers the question, but because it was the most popular, and I do not like leaving question marked as unanswered. – Blunders . 12 years ago


There is one fundamental problem that you will run into quantitatively and otherwise.

The interview is basically you describing yourself and unless you can see how person actually does what you want them to you will know nothing of whether or not the person just actually talks good game.

What you should be doing in an interview is telling the person that the company adheres to these principles and they should follow them as well. In which case people who don't want to or don't know will fall off your radar on their own.

answered Mar 2 '12 at 07:39
1,779 points
  • +1 @Karlson: Thanks, guess I was thinking more along the lines of presenting questions like the [Google interview blender question](, [behavioral based interview questions](, or some sort of well defined "mini" challenge/problem to answer. Asking people to understand, and then promise to adhere to any principles seems like a slippery slope in terms of people just agreeing to agree, then not executing on that agreement. – Blunders . 12 years ago
  • @blunders Which in my book ends in "You're fired." – Karlson 12 years ago
  • +1 @Karlson: Agree, though to force a co-founder out based on failure to execute would require a little more planning than just an "You're fired." More importantly, since I now realize it wasn't clear, that approach in itself is not agile. Meaning my understanding of your suggestion is that it's all based on agreeing to a plan, then months, if not years relater responding to a failure in that plan. – Blunders . 12 years ago
  • @blunders If you are actually following the Agile model it will not take months or years to see that someone isn't. – Karlson 12 years ago
  • +1 @Karlson: True, good point. Guess you're answer is not the answer I was looking for, which doesn't make it a bad answer, guess I just was looking for a way to measure the related skills in a meaningful way before committing to a relationship in the real-world, though maybe it's more about managing the risks, and attempting to forecast performance. Thanks for the feedback. Cheers! – Blunders . 12 years ago


You need to make some clear distinctions.

Your startup can definitely be built around some shared values. It sounds to me as though you're taking the attitudes of Lean Startup in that kind of way. Without taking yourself too seriously, maybe you should sketch out your project's manifesto - how you want to be and do what you intend to become. And, by and large, you should be building a team that shares those core values, because that will make it easier to pull together in the tough days.

And your startup is going to need a whole set of skills and methodologies. Skills can be evidenced, and they can be learned. Methodologies, too, can be evidenced, learned and adapted. Having skills you know are going to be important represented in a team is clearly smart, but it's no guarantee of success. So surround yourself with smart, motivated, adaptable people. And wherever possible, find opportunities to work together with intensity.

Finding out if you're compatible enough to work together, different enough that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and broad enough that you can make it, is the fun and frustration at the heart of startup life. And you de-risk that by building commitment slowly, and by biting the bullet fast when it isn't working out.

Good luck. I hope you find yourself part of a dream team!

answered Mar 2 '12 at 22:57
Jeremy Parsons
5,197 points

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