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Find the right people.

My greatest fear is being alone. Many people don’t know this, but I had two other co-founders before I met Keith. Both of them were friends of mine from college. Neither of them were very interested in running a startup.

I asked them to join the team because I didn’t want to go through the hardship of starting a business alone. They agreed to join me because they were being good friends. But this was a recipe for disaster.

Great leaders get the right people in the right roles.

This enables them to give their teams responsibility and agency that empowers them to do their best work. Suffice to say, I had not put the right people in the right roles.

Their commitment to me over Lumastic and their lack of knowledge or interest in starting a business made me very insecure. I didn’t trust them to stay with Lumastic long-term. But because I was so afraid that revealing this insecurity would end in me being on this journey alone - I never did.

Instead, I just did all of the work and gave them all the credit - in the hopes this flattery would make them want to stay on. For example, when we launched the first version of Lumastic back in 2018, our “CTO” at the time wrote 8% of the code for our MVP. I wrote the other 92%. But when we met to celebrate our launch, I congratulated and thanked him for his work as if he’d been coding in his sleep for the past month.

I’m not sharing this out of spite - but to explain how my fear of being abandoned and alone affected my ability to do my job well. Journeying alone is hard, but carrying others so they’ll journey with you is even harder.

6 months later, they had both left the company.

I then spent my first summer out of college in an accelerator program as a solo-founder. I was away from Sarah, my friends, and my family - in a small town where I knew no one. I spent most of my time in my own head, and I felt more alone that I ever have in my life.

It was such a painful time for me and was the first time I experienced real depression. I blamed myself for the whole situation. I felt ashamed and resigned myself to the belief that I was just impossible to work with.

While getting lunch with Sarah and a few of our friends, I opened up about how hard this was for me. I admitted that I had made no progress on the business, felt stuck, and needed help. My friend Chelsea immediately said that I should talk to her boyfriend, Keith. She told me he was a software engineer, had built some products before, and even if he couldn’t help me, he would know people who could.

A week later, Keith and I met for dinner.

We immediately hit it off. He was more than I could have ever wanted in a co-founder. He understood the problem, the industry, and had nearly a decade of experience building software. A week after that, we signed the paper work and made it official.

4 years later, meeting Keith I think is the single greatest accomplishment I’ve had with Lumastic. He has shown me what it’s like to work with a true partner - someone you trust implicitly, can have hard conversations with, and who fills in your gaps. I’ve said this many times, but Lumastic would have gone nowhere without Keith.

But finding him was total luck.

I can’t tell you how to find the right co-founder, hire the right team, or meet the right advisor. It’s serendipity, happenstance, and coincidence. It’s the aspect of starting a business that makes all the difference, but it’s also one of the aspects that’s nearly impossible to plan for or control. It’s like dating.

The only advice I can offer to put the odds in your favor is to continuously put yourself out there by meeting people, telling your story, and sharing the struggle. And this is something I’d invest almost as much time into in the early days as talking to customers and prototyping product. Because although Lumastic wasn’t forever - my relationship with Keith and the rest of the team that made it happen is.

Success is the right people in the right seats working passionately on the right idea.

Every time you add an amazing operator, executor, designer, or engineer to your life, you get closer to success. Ideas come and go - friendship is forever.

Note: This is part of a larger blog series on 10 Things I Learned From My First Failed Startup. Checkout the rest of the series and tweet your thoughts at me.

Drew Lyton
Drew Lyton
Friday, February 4, 2022

I'm a software engineer, ex-founder and writer who cares deeply about creating a better relationship between technology and society. I'm currently writing a book about early stage entrepreneurship.


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