How I found a co-founder in a pandemic and finally accepted LinkedIn messages

I used to think that sending unsolicited messages on LinkedIn was just for headhunters and weirdos. But in a pandemic, anything goes, right? I’m one of those weirdos now, and I don’t regret it.

In early December 2020, I did some Google ‘research’ which ended in me sending a LinkedIn message to somebody I didn’t know.

My message was:

Hi Liam, apologies for the cold message! I recently learnt about Tidze and think it looks great! I also think we might be working on a similar vision. I’d love to chat and learn more about what you’re doing, and potentially see if there’s scope for us to work together. Are you open to this? Emily

Looking back, I cringe that I apologised before even saying anything. I also cringe at the two exclamation marks in a row. I hate that these things are so stereotypically female. We have to stop doing it. (Sorry.)

But 3 months later, I’m so happy I wrote the message. After an intense 2 weeks of constant Zoom, Slack and email communications, Liam and I decided to join forces as co-founders. We have just launched v1 of our product: OnJam.tv.

Liam and I haven’t met in person yet. The UK government doesn’t allow it under Coronavirus rules. I live in London and Liam lives a 4 hour drive away, near Preston. We did try to meet — Liam and I, my husband, Liam’s wife and kids — but the outdoor tourist venue we chose informed me that my London postcode (a Tier 4 COVID area) required us to stay away. So we did. We’ve been in lockdown since then.

It seems fitting that OnJam is all about creating meaningful, memorable human interactions remotely. OnJam is a digital platform that empowers musicians and artists to make a living online, and connect directly with their fans all over the world. We provide secure, integrated ticketing with high definition video streaming for live and recorded shows and lots of community features. The artists earn 85% of revenues.

Is it very strange to co-build a product and business fully remotely and with somebody you’ve never met in person? No, not really. Is it the same as being in an office? Also no.

Our daily morning meetings are on video and we message on Slack throughout the day. Most of the actual work happens in various Google Docs and remote working tools. We meet investors on video and have debrief chats on a separate video chat afterwards. Jokes are usually on Slack and for some reason, video chats are a bit more serious.

Sometimes, the pandemic makes things weird. I trudged through a snowstorm to meet a witness so we could sign the Shareholders Agreement. We had to be outside because of COVID, so we signed on her doorstep with the paper up against the front door. Then I walked home, scanned it and emailed it to the solicitor.

I’ve never signed a Shareholders Agreement in non-pandemic times but I assume you’d normally celebrate at this point. Should I have sent a bottle of something to Preston? Jelly shots?! Who knows.

Working remotely all the time isn’t actually that different to my previous, pre-COVID, workplaces. In my last company, most people worked from home sometimes but all on different days, so team meetings were always remote. I worked in the office but I might as well have been at home. Before that, I ran a business in New York where everyone was 25 (I felt like a grandma at 30) and people thought it was weird that I wanted in-person meetings and not just Slack.

In both of those workplaces, we did have regular in-person meetings, surprisingly fruitful chats in corridors, and in-person happy hours. I still think there’s nothing quite like sitting together in a room and figuring out a problem together, or drawing out ideas on a big whiteboard. I do love a whiteboard and it’s probably not ok to have one of those in your living room, is it (is it?).

When Liam and I do finally meet, I think it’ll be a bit surreal but hopefully also great. With a bit of luck, we’ll have quite a lot to celebrate by then. And maybe this situation will be more common in future. It’s hard enough to find a co-founder at the best of times — trust me, I searched high and low — and maybe sometimes it’s best to go with your gut feel and just send that random message, even if it’s on LinkedIn. I’m a convert.