Startup Swingers: Swapping Founders to Generate Fresh Ideas

Remember "swinging"? Two people in a committed relationship go to a party with a bunch of other people in committed relationships. They all separate, find new partners for the evening and get jiggy. It may sound lurid and gross, but it’s the cool new thing for startup founders.

Swapping Ideas, Not Spouses

First, let’s be clear. We’re not talking about sex. We’re talking about Founder Swap, a June 1 event in New York where teams from six different startups will get together, trade partners for a day and go home with an injection of fresh ideas. The tagline? “Like Wife Swap but for Founders. We want to get startups pregnant with new ideas.”

“Young teams who are working redline as hard as they can with just one or two other people, a little bit of fatigue can set in and you can get overfocused,” explains Jonathan Basker, VP of human resources at Betaworks and one of three people behind Founder Swap, along with Scroll Kit founders Kate Ray and Cody Brown. “Our goal is to disrupt that sequence and see what happens.”

Here’s what he hopes happens. Founders will soak up some objective perspective on their product and perhaps a little constructive criticism. And they’ll pick up practical advice - technical founders will glean tips from business-oriented founders and vice versa.

No Breakups Allowed

Here’s what he hopes doesn’t happen. Founders meet new people and fire their current partners. “That would be a horrifying result,” Basker says. “The idea is not to reformulate your team but to inform yourself about how you’re working. We’re not trying to be home wreckers here.”

The inaugural event will focus on software companies, to ensure participants have something in common. All six startups must have at least a product idea. Ideally, each team will consist of two or three people and will be pre-series-A, so no parental guidance from meddlesome VCs.

Founder Swap will decide who pairs off with whom. Couples will meet Thursday and spend Friday together. There will be no filming (though it’s easy to imagine how this might someday evolve into a reality show on Bravo).

“I would be ecstatic," Basker says, "if at the end of this, each team gets back together and says, ‘Wow, this was really cool,’ and feels energized by the event, if each one of these companies walks away with a new perspective or just one kernel of useful information they didn’t have before.”