This is the old Gittip blog. We have renamed to Gratipay and moved our blog.

The Community is My Cofounder

October 18, 2013, 3:56 pm

I’m applying to Y Combinator with Gittip. One of the main pieces of feedback I’ve gotten on my application is that I should find another founder. As Warren Konkel of Bountysource advised:

Don’t think of it as “I need a cofounder to get to the YC interview,” and instead, “Gittip will be a much stronger company if i have a cofounder, and YC invests in strong companies.”

I’m empathetic to this. I’ve had two past experiences with business partners. The first worked out great: we had a good run, and parted amicably. The second time I ruined an old friendship, so I understand both the benefits and the risks of having a cofounder.

As the YC application deadline approaches, I’ve been exploring the possibility of adding a cofounder to my application. For better or for worse, no slam-dunk choice has emerged from amongst the Gittip community. Therefore, I’ve decided to move forward with the YC application on the basis that the community as a whole is my cofounder. For most companies, this would be bullshit. For Gittip, I propose that it’s actually true.

Here are some of the ways that the Gittip community fulfills the cofounder role:

  1. The community boosts my morale. Of course there’s the collaboration in IRC and GitHub, and the financial generosity on Gittip itself. But I also get to witness inspiring acts such as one contributor mailing a laptop to another contributor.
  2. The community corrects my bad decisions. The most vehement example of this was the pushback I got on a dumb idea I called “issue tracker zero” (don’t ask!).
  3. The community feels a real sense of ownership. Our issue tracker is full of epic tickets with impassioned (yet respectful) debates, involving scores of participants, e.g.: #5 #14 #28 #126 #138. I mean, heck, the YC application ticket itself has two dozen participants.
  4. The community gets work done. We haven’t yet found someone able to work full-time on Gittip with me, but between everyone else on the team, we have roughly one full-time equivalent. That’s acceptable while we’re bootstrapping.
  5. If I were to disappear, new leadership would emerge from the community. Pretty much the only piece of information the community doesn’t have that it would need is the password for DNS. Even there, that’s not an insurmountable problem. Gittip wouldn’t be the same without me, but it wouldn’t simply die.

Closed companies need cofounders because they’re closed. Due to variability pooling, two or three people make better decisions and last longer than one person acting alone.

But Gittip is an open company, and I’m emphatically not acting alone. The same is true of Gittip’s open source project cousins: Who cofounded Linux? Or Python? Or Perl? Or PHP? It’s certainly possible for open entities to have multiple cofounders (FreeBSD, Apache, Subversion, Wikipedia). But it’s also genuinely possible for the community to be the cofounder, and—whether YC is ready to hear this or not—that is the case with Gittip.