Shahab Kaviani’s online matchmaking site isn’t about romance — it’s about finding people compatible enough to start a business together.
CoFoundersLab, Kaviani’s Rockville-based start-up, calls itself “Match.com for entrepreneurs.” Aspiring entrepreneurs create personal profiles online, listing their location, business skills and the attributes they are looking for in a co-founder, and then hope for a connection. A business development expert with five years of experience might seek a digitally savvy programmer to help found a health information Web site, for instance.
Members sign up for free, but pay fees for premium features — $5 a month to message others, and more to access features such as candidate recommendations or a list of recent profile visitors. The site also charges a one-time initial fee, depending on the user’s membership plan. (FounderDating, another start-up founded on the West Coast, offers a similar service.)
Kaviani and his own co-founder, Culin Tate, first connected at an entrepreneurship meet-up in Rockville in 2010. Since then, the two have been adding new features as they bring their site — with more than 25,000 members — closer to profitability.
Though CoFoundersLab’s original algorithm was designed to match co-founders with other co-founders based on skill sets, among other factors, Tate and Kaviani have been adjusting the system to match entrepreneurs with advisers, too. The new algorithm considers an adviser’s industry expertise and the function they have expertise in — human resources, recruiting or fundraising, for instance. Currently, advisers can join on an invite-only basis, and are vetted by CoFoundersLab’s six-person staff before they can be matched with entrepreneurs.
“It takes us further down the company’s history, beyond just the initial co-founder matching, [finding] a good adviser who may be able to give them good introductions, bring that industry expertise,” Kaviani said.
Advisers are encouraged to join so they can “get new engagements and gigs they might otherwise not have been able to discover on their own,” he said.
The start-up has also been experimenting with mobile apps, including a free app using GPS data to help entrepreneurs identify potential advisers or co-founders who are standing nearby at networking events. The app has about 1,000 downloads so far. CoFoundersLab has also recently started operating its own networking events, both in the Washington area and internationally in Israel, Brazil and other countries.
In early January, CoFoundersLab was one of the first start-ups to sell equity online through an online process called crowdfunding — accredited investors, or those who make about $200,000 a year or whose net worth exceeds $1 million, can sign up to buy shares through a Web site. In September, the Securities and Exchange Commission lifted a ban preventing start-ups from publicly advertising their fundraising efforts. After it was removed, start-ups like CoFoundersLab could connect with investors online, outside their immediate personal network. The start-up raised about $675,000 through Rock the Post, a New York-based crowdfunding site.
“One of the investors discovered us in Moscow — he discovered us because we were able to publicly solicit, and may not have discovered us if we didn’t have the ability to publicly solicit from cities we didn’t have a strong context in,” Kaviani said.