Quickly Grow a Startup By Filling a Major Void: An Interview with CoFounders Lab’s Shahab Kaviani

January 19, 2012

3:00 pm

A freshly minted startup here in DC called CoFoundersLab officially launched this past November (on 11/11/11) to fill a void in the startup world: They are a matchmaking platform for tech entrepreneurs, which actually grew out of a successful meetup group.  In a highly entertaining call with Cofounder Shahab Kaviani this morning, he articulated what many people in the DC tech community have experienced:

There is a small group of people in the business of helping entrepreneurs in this area.  It’s a small circle, but we’ve made a lot of progress here in DC.  I spent 5 years out in the Bay Area and always wished I could bring a slice of San Francisco back with me.  I have been doing startups for 8 years and felt like a loner in this area.  Now I feel like we are getting our mojo here in DC.

CoFounderLab is super easy to use: Just create a profile, and you can browse, organize, and communicate with candidates who are in your city and looking to be a co-founder. You can review key information on that person to help you determine how well suited you are for one another.

Kaviani actually started working on it in November 2010.  “I was looking for a cofounder, and I organized a meetup at a Barnes & Noble, where I met Culin Tate.  He’s been a tremendous asset to the company, and I could not do it without him.”

Because that first event was so well-received, Kaviani started holding regular cofounder matching events to help people overcome the toughest and first obstacle of launching a startup – a cofounder who can encourage you and round you out with some of the skills you need.  It’s not just for finding technical people, though.  You can look for advisors or someone who can scale and grow your business, for example.

The Rockville Economic Devevelopment Office hosted CoFoundersLab’s first official event, and the events started to grow quickly.  Kaviani and Tate started to replicate them and expanded to Frederick, Tysons Corner, Philadelphia, and Baltimore (DC is coming soon ).   They have about 1500 members – mostly in the DC area – and each location has been running for 6-9 months.  Last year, CoFounderLab hosted 20 or so events in 5 or 6 cities.

Obviously, they were filling a need, and not just here in the DC area but around the country.  “I asked myself, why don’t we make these matches happen between meetings?” Kaviani said.  “So I created an online cofounder matching site using our own money early last year.  We launched private beta, figured out what people need and added those features.”

One of the reasons CoFoundersLab will work is because of their formula that combines in-person, face-to-face interaction with the online matching platform.  Since launch, they have been growing through word of mouth and almost no marketing.  People from other cities have been contacting them, but thanks to advice they received from one of their advisors, who used to be with Match.com, they are trying to focus on DC Metro area for now, as density of membership is critical to making the right matches.

Don’t think they don’t have growth on their minds, though.  Kaviani said, “We want to be in all the major technology hubs in the country.  To replicate our formula smartly, we are helping people in other cities, like Vancouver and NYC, establish chapters, basically.  They are run by people who are local, but we work together as partners to make them successful.”

Since it is impossible to bootstrap forever, I asked about their business model.  “We are going to build up feature sets while continuing to allow entrepeneurs to get free access to basic matchmaking services,” Kaviani said.  “So we’ll add premium features available by subscription.  We are also trying out a private network concept with the ACC Clean Energy Challenge, the Department of Energy’s business plan competition for clean energy.  M-Tech at the University of Maryland is using CoFounders Lab to help people who are competing build their teams.  We think that could be another viable revenue stream.”

If you are looking for a cofounder, they are hosting an event tonight at the Rockville Economic Development Office at 6:30.  Good luck!

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Monika Jansen is a writer and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, newsletters, website content, and other materials. Follow her at: @monikacjansen

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