What happens when two people decide to start the exact same social impact company at the exact same time? What if those two people are living in different cities, countries, and time zones?

It might depend on if they are Impact Hubbers or not.

Because that’s exactly what happened to me early in 2013. The idea was an online, on-demand, education company focused on social change. It’s like Coursera or Udemy - but just for the social sector. My company was called School for Change.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa, Impact Hubber Jessica Lax was starting up her own project. She called hers Change School.

 It was almost too perfect to believe: Jesse and Jessica, both working on education program for Impact Hub, and trying to start School for Change and Change School. This had to be some sort of crazy US/Canada parallel-social-change-universe.

 What happened next was testament to the power of collaboration and serendipity.

The story is simple. We were introduced by a mutual acquaintance and Impact Hub member (thanks, Vinod) and realized our work and purpose were perfectly aligned. So we joined forces, and started the company together.

Easy, right?

Not quite. Turns out, collaboration is more a state of mind than anything. Impact Hub’s special sauce of culture teed up our partnership long before we’d even met each other. Here are the 8 things that led to a serendipitous, collaborative, and fun co-founding experience.

  1.  Find your people - Your tribe of changemakers is out there. Find them. They are the people who will make the connections that lead to finding an investor, your next hire, or in my case, a co-founder.
  2. Have a “right-place-right-time” mindset. I met Vinod Rajasekaran for about ten minutes at a conference. I didn’t hear from him for six months - and then the email connecting me to Jessica popped up in my inbox. You never know where synchronicity will find you, but the secret is to believe that it could be anywhere, anytime. Maintaining an excited openness to others is critical.
  3. There’s no such thing as competition. The first time that Jessica and I spoke, it would have been easy for us to view each other as threatening competition. But we didn’t. Instead, we were overjoyed that somebody else was working on the same problems we were. The last thing we need is a lot of people re-inventing the wheel. Work to turn the idea of competition in real opportunities for collaboration.
  4. Play well with others. After that first call, Jessica and I started talking weekly to share what we were working on. There was no agenda except to get into the sandbox of this big problem we were working on and to play. Small actions can build trust and shared vision that become fundamental to a company.
  5. Take baby steps. Co-founding a company doesn’t happen all at once. It took us three months of collaboration to decide we were all in. We started with a small project and evaluated how we were working together at every step. Do not start with a 5 year strategic plan - instead test the waters with a project that will take a few weeks.
  6. Get comfortable with technology. The distance between SF and Ottawa seemed daunting. I got over it. Good co-founders are hard to find, and technology makes it possible to collaborate easily. Distance is no longer a good excuse. 
  7. Sleep on couches. - Last month, I spent five days with Jessica hashing out strategy, x-country skiing, meeting her family, and hanging out at Impact Hub Ottawa. #7 notwithstanding, it’s a good idea to spend real-life QT with a partner before you dive into a venture together.
  8. Seal the Deal with a Hug… er, Handshake - The work we do as changemakers is business and heart centered. Your relationship with a co-founder should be the same. You need to be able to sit down for a beer, joke, and, yes, hug out when the going gets rough.


Jesse Sleamaker is the founder of School for Change - the first online school for changemakers.  Click here to see their growing list of on-demand courses.

canada, Collaboration, Community, Hubbers, Member Perspectives, Member Stories, Member's Blogs, multihub, Networking, ottawa, Bay Area, Berkeley, education, HUB Learning, north america, Partners, san francisco, Social Innovation, USA, Young People

Brooke Estin

Brooke Estin

Upcoming Events

5 Reasons You Should Apply to the Agora Accelerator

26 September 2016 | Flavia Ladino
You saw a problem and discovered a great solution, you started a business and began to drive change, and now you are ready to take your company to the next level.

Impact Hub Wraps Largest Global Mash Up, Prepares for Next

6 June 2016 | Whitney Schaefer
On March 3, over 600 people from 10 Impact Hubs around the world near-simultaneously participated in Impact Hub’s second-ever global Mash Up under the common theme “Tech For Good.”

Cambodian Social Entrepreneur & his Dream Homes

24 May 2016 | Tyler Tornaben
When Kongngy Hav (Ngy for short) first stepped into one of Impact Hub Phnom Penh's bootcamps two years ago, his drive and passion were instantly contagious.

2016 EU Social Innovation Competition : "Integrated Futures"

25 February 2016 | Nicolo' Bertolini
European Commission seeks bright ideas to support refugees and migrants

Social Innovation in Italy: An Interview with Impact Hub Florence

11 August 2014 | Tyler Tornaben
Tuscany is world renowned for many things, including breathtaking landscapes, cultural traditions, rich history, artistic legacy and its influence on high culture. Boasting seven World Heritage Sites and regarded as the original birthplace of the Renaissance, the Italian region has a great deal…

Natalie Foster of PEERS: Campaigns to Empower a Sharing Economy

9 December 2013 | Brooke Estin
A digital campaigner whose not afraid to share, Natalie Foster is focused on growing a new economy where people create value and access to what they need through sharing everyday.

Jason Rosado of Givkwik: Banking for Money to Banking on Charity

9 December 2013 | kimhunter
Jason Rosado left a successful career in banking to make charitable giving as easy and impulsive as the act of “Liking” on Facebook.

Leading the Legal Charge for Social Impact

9 December 2013 | kimhunter
With a career in corporate law behind him, Inder Comar, of Comar Law, puts his legal chops to work at Impact Hub Bay Area to help start ups succeed and seek out justice in the making of the Iraq War.

Making An Impact Through Better Business

9 December 2013 | kimhunter
Andy Fyfe is the Community Development Coordinator for B Lab, based out of the Impact Hub Bay Area, in downtown San Francisco.