Lesson 2 – Co-founder & Approaches

Before you start, make a copy of this lesson’s Journey Scrapbook [Google Slides] and paste into your existing slide deck. As you progress through the lessons, we will have more slides for you to add to your Journey Scrapbook. Fill in the slides as you progress through this lesson.

Dear Explorers.

Welcome to another step in the Mobilizing PhD journey. Hopefully, you will have found your Ikigai from Lesson 1. You may still be unsure about your Ikigai, but the important part is consciously examining where you are in life and how you can move forward from here. In this lesson, we look at charting a desire line, which is a path leading to your future destination. Below, we briefly look at how Lesson 1 connects with Lesson 2:

  1. Ikigai (Lesson 1):
    • Origin: made up of “iki” (life) and “gai” (value or worth), it is often represented as the intersection of four elements: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.
    • Meaning: Ikigai is about finding the balance and overlap between these four elements. It suggests that true purpose and fulfillment come from the convergence of passion, vocation, mission, and profession.
  2. Desire Lines (Lesson 2):
    • Origin: comes from urban planning and design. It refers to the paths that people create by walking across a field or through a park, deviating from the designated sidewalks or pathways. These lines represent the most direct routes people desire to take based on their needs and preferences.
    • Meaning: In a broader sense, desire lines can be seen as a metaphor for following one’s natural inclinations or instincts. They represent the paths we are drawn to, reflecting our inherent desires and intentions.

Both concepts center around discovering a path true to your passions and principles. Ikigai guides individuals to find their unique blend of passion, vocation, mission, and profession. Conversely, desire lines symbolize more immediate, instinctual, and often unconventional paths shaped by personal needs and desires. Your Ikigai is the driving force behind your desire lines.

Take a look at this photo – how do you resonate with it? How have you walked off the beaten path to find something new inviting you to go down this new path further?


In your Journey Scrapbook, jot down:
– Is there a time you took your desire path over a convention one? If not, is there a time you wish you did?
– What did you learn from it that you otherwise would not have?

A Video Interlude

PRO TIP: click below to download an AUDIO ONLY version, so you can listen on the go! 

Tandem Talents: Understanding Co-Founder Fit

You do not NEED a co-founder; what matters is what you uniquely bring to the table, be it time, money, or skill. However, we will still look to a co-founder fit evaluation model to gain a better understanding of what makes for a good co-founder because if you have what it takes to find a good co-founder, you have what it takes to build a great team, whether it is in the form of a contractor or your first employee. Your ultimate goal is to bring in collaborators who complement your strengths by offering what you lack, whether or not they fit the traditional co-founder role.

So how do you determine ‘fit’?

  1. Are your mission, goals, and values aligned?
  2. Are your skill sets complementary?
  3. Are you compatible in your working styles?

Now let’s Introspect.

What is your mission? What are your goals and values?

How many of us get to an interview and have to hold back an eyeroll at the question “Why do you want to work for X company?” A surface-level answer you spent 5 minutes Googling before the interview might get you into a large company but it won’t get you very far in a start-up of 3 people. Why? Because in small teams, each collaborator takes on a larger share of the overall responsibilities of a venture. As a consequence, you really want to work with people who are intimately aligned with your mission, goals and values to ensure a unified front for your venture. This alignment is vital for making decisions that work towards the long-term goals of the venture. What is your mission? What are your goals and values?


In your Journey Scrapbook, jot down:
Mission: What do you care most about solving? (Just Cause?)
Values: What do you value in your work? What are your non-negotiables?
Goals: What are your personal goals? Rank them from most to least important

What skills do you have?

Diverse skills not only address immediate requirements but also encourage long-term adaptability and venture growth and having collaborators with complementary skill sets is vital for building a robust foundation in entrepreneurship, However, it starts even closer to home than that. Understanding what you bring to the table is as important as understanding what you look for in a business partner. We’ll touch on continuous learning later on in the lesson but for now, let’s reflect on and summarize our unique offerings that enable a holistic approach to business operations. What skills do you currently possess?


In your Journey Scrapbook, fill out the checklist of skills you possess

What is your working style?

The entrepreneurial journey is a rollercoaster of highs and lows and is riddled with tough decisions, so having a co-founder with complementary personality traits and working style is crucial. Your working styles do not have to match, and in fact, probably shouldn’t. We have used the term “complementary” a lot throughout this lesson and that is for good reason. Weaknesses can become strengths if you’re working with the right person. Take one founder who is more risk-averse and the other who is a risk-taker – they can strike a balance that prevents reckless decisions while nurturing innovation. Similarly, if one is the visionary dreamer while the other is the pragmatic realist, they can keep each other grounded and focused on achievable goals. What are some things that are unique to the way you work?


In your Journey Scrapbook, jot down:
– In three words or less, describe how you like to work?
– What is one positive and one negative trait of your working style?
– In two sentences, describe β€œWhat is it like to work with me?”

Beyond skill sets, a good collaborator acts as a sounding board and a source of support. Entrepreneurship is riddled with tough decisions, and having a partner to share the burden can be invaluable. A co-founder provides a different perspective, challenges assumptions, and helps navigate through uncertainties. During moments of doubt or setbacks, a supportive co-founder with a sound approach can be the motivating force that keeps the entrepreneurial spirit alive.

Entrepreneurial Approaches: Which is Yours?

Entrepreneurial approaches encompass the various strategies individuals employ when navigating the world of business creation and innovation. These approaches define how entrepreneurs conceptualize, launch, and manage their ventures. The choice of your approach plays a key role in shaping your pitch so let’s kick off the concrete planning of your business model right here. Some common models include:

  1. Freelance: Freelancers are independent professionals who offer their services on a project or contract basis. They operate as solo entrepreneurs, often working in fields like writing, graphic design, programming, and consulting.
    • Key Characteristics: Individualized work; flexibility in choosing clients and projects; emphasis on personal branding and marketing.
    • Examples: making videos, giving talks, writing a book, industry consulting, etc
  2. Start-up: Involves creating a new business from scratch, typically with an innovative product or service. Entrepreneurs in this category often seek rapid growth and scale.
    • Key Characteristics: High risk, high reward; innovation-driven; often requires external funding.
    • Examples: many tech companies like Airbnb, Uber, etc
  3. Intrapreneur: Intrapreneurs are individuals within established companies (in your case, the university) who take on entrepreneurial roles. You may consider grant writing as a form of intrapreneurship in academia. Grant writing is a creative act that brings funding to bring about change within the existing organizational structure.
    • Key Characteristics: Operates within an existing business structure; focuses on innovation and internal growth; may involve developing new products or services.
    • Examples: funding application for a (postdoc) project, finding new ways to promote research done by your department, etc
  4. Social Entrepreneurship: This approach integrates business principles with a mission to address social or environmental issues. Social entrepreneurs aim to create positive impact alongside financial sustainability.
    • Key Characteristics: Focus on social or environmental impact; innovative solutions to societal problems; may involve non-profit structures or hybrid models.
    • Examples: Patagonia, Etsy, TOMS shoes, etc.

Further Reading

  • “You can… trust your instincts about people. Your life so far hasn’t been much like starting a startup, but all the interactions you’ve had with people are just like the interactions you have with people in the business world. In fact, one of the big mistakes that founders make is to not trust their intuition about people enough. They meet someone, who seems impressive, but about whom they feel some misgivings and then later when things blow up, they say, “You know I knew there was something wrong about that guy, but I ignored it because he seemed so impressive.” – Quoted from “How to Start a Startup” Watch further at Y Combinator: The Vault by Paul Graham
  • A simple framework to assess co-founder fit Read further at Medium by Ada Yeo