As a side-note, the exact skills you need will depend on which metric you use to become successful (e.g. whether you want to bootstrap a self-sustainable company, or if you are happy with quick growth, raising money and exiting), but generally you need skills to build the product(s), and the skills to sell them. I personally couldn't sell my way out of a paper bag, but could build pretty much anything based on software and Internet. My attempts to build a startup failed precisely because I didn't have a hustler on the team, and I gave given up on trying again unless I can either a) find one, or b) build something that sells itself.
Sales is an interesting skill. People will buy from pretty bad sales people if the sales person is a) knowledgeable and b) genuine. As a founder you should be both so as long as you get out and meet potential clients (or pick up the phone) you will sell as well as any skilled sales person. The skill that good professional sales people have is selling when they don’t know or care about the product.
Don’t ever think you can't be an effective sales person for the company you founded and built. Every founder can sell as long as they try.
Fair point, but one should beware the survivor's bias. I've seen so many people who have won the talent genetic lottery, and practising something they're talented for seems so natural and easy to them, and they can't understand why would others have trouble with the same.
How would someone learn sales?
Sales is really a numbers games. Almost everybody you talk to says no (and often very rudely), but if your product has any value (and sometimes even when it doesn't) someone will say yes. Set a target per day of approaches and don't stop until you reach it.
On the actual sales pitch try to not to overwhelm the potential customers with information (I still do this). You should aim to be listening 60% of the time and talking 40% of the time. Record your pitches so you can review where you went wrong and time how much you are talking.
If you are the founder and built the product you should be able to wing the pitch (it will be more genuine if you do), but roleplay out your pitches with someone you feel comfortable with. What can really work well here is to write a whole lot of scenarios for the other person and have them pull one out at random and use for you to practice against. Each time you come across a new objection or blocking point then added it to the roleplay list.
The most important thing is to just grind through it. Sales is hard and unpleasant (nobody likes being rejected), but the more you do the better you will get at it. Set aside a time every day to do it and just do it.
Beyond that point you can hire.
Which is a skill of its own.
If you are able to get things off the ground, doing 0 to 1 all by yourself, then you don't need a co-founder. But doing 1 to N, you need a team.
I had a co-founder in my first company, and we were very unproductive, as reaching consensus took a lot of time.
Then I started my second company without a cofounder. Things get way better this time. I'm an engineer and I get to build things quickly. The only downside of founding company alone is, raising money may take longer. Investors typically discriminate sole founder. But it's not impossible. There are still investors willing to take a bet on sole founders if you are able to prove that you are capable enough.
It's more possible than ever to start a company alone, especially when you know how to write code. Think about this, which is faster: a business person learns coding, or a programmer learns business skills?
Edit: adding this --
It becomes easier to start a tech company as a sole-founder nowadays, e.g., cheaper to bootstrap, commodity of tech stack / cloud infra, tons of advices on the internet, Stripe Atlas... I suspect that when this generation of sole-founders succeed, some of them will become VCs and they'll have more empathy on sole-founders and will bet on more sole-founders like them.
You can kinda extrapolate the ratio of successful startups / total startups for each founder buckets by looking at the y-axis counts...but in that case, the ratio of successful startups given the startup raised $10M is 80%-90%, which doesn't make any sense. Is this data correct or am I misinterpreting it?
A bootstrapped startup that you stop paying attention to will rapidly stop making money.
For some, sure. For many others it's to have the freedom to do something they enjoy, or to solve a pain they've encountered, or to help others. YC funds plenty of non-profits that aren't likely to ever make the founders "fuck you money" rich. In fact, most of the founders of those startups could earn much more elsewhere.
Yup! Then try hitting the wall at 600 mph, after raising $100M. That ain't pretty either.
The analysis in the article doesn't normalize for the frequency of a certain founder-number bucket. What if 99% of all start-ups have single founders? Then of course most of the companies that exit have a single founder, even if single founders perform much worse.
Also Stop Looking for a Cofounder (dontscale.com) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10060935
is interesting for the comments.
(The article is now at https://web.archive.org/web/20160225043230/http://dontscale.... as dontscale.com seems to have overdone don't scaling.)
My theory has often been that many "solo founders" actually get some very strong support elsewhere - whether it's their spouse or a relative. A lot of the more modern VC companies target very young entrepreneurs in their 20s, who probably have not gotten married yet.
I personally bootstrapped mark II of my business while working full time with a wife and family who all thought I was crazy. It just took me a little longer than if I had been working 100 hours a week with a co-founder.
One of the good things about going slower is you have more time to think through problems and you can get by with less feedback from others (i.e. you have the time to solve your own problems).
I would argue even teams of co-founders require a diverse support network! Relying on only your team is putting all of your eggs in one basket and superficially restricting the diversity of views you need to be innovative.
That being said, I agree with the premise of the article and think that people should stop pushing collaboration so much (like open offices, pair programming). A lot of the time collaboration just makes you comfortable while adding lots of communication overhead.
Frederick P. Brooks,
The Mythical Man-Month:
Essays on Software Engineering,
Brooks was saying that if the project is late you can't speed it up by adding more people to it because the current team members then need to spend less time working on production and instead spend that time getting the new people up to speed.
In contrast, if you're digging a ditch and that project is late then you can definitely speed it up by adding more people. They can work in parallel and the new workers already have the skills needed to contribute immediately.
The GP was talking about ongoing communication overhead for people that are already on the team.
Your extra details are good, but we still can take a simpler approach: More people means more communications, of all kinds! So, the whole thing can go bureaucratic with endless lists of requirements, considerations, ....
E.g., my solo, sole founder project code has 24,000 programming language statements in 100,000 lines of typing, and large organizations, even using the parallelism you mentioned, might have taken more person-hours and maybe more elapsed time to do that than I did!
I had one of those situations: About a dozen of us. In the afternoon I heard the horror stories about the weeks of work they had to do to program the rule subroutines. Gads, their implementation would have made a mess out of the feature.
Some of the problem was a run time routine for some RETE logic. The programmers were planning to return from all the subroutines, run the RETE code, then somehow call all the subroutines again -- at best, a disaster. By dawn I had sent e-mail with a clean solution: Carry along an entry variable pointer to the RETE routine, keep it active on the stack of dynamic descendancy, and then invoke it where as needed. I got some sleep and when I got back the production code was nearly done!
How that happen? We had some bright guys, but one guy working alone overnight did better than the results of all the meetings and plannings.
Which is obviously hard, see entire industry around hiring games...
They said damn this guy owns 70% of the company after Series A, we can't make him do anything we want! Now if there were 2 founders each founder would only own 35% of the company, and if they could convince one of those two founders they could get what they want. All investors want cofounders because they want more leverage. So if some investor is urging you to team up with a cofounder to 'complement your skillset' it might actually be that they aren't confident in your leadership and want an option to override you.
Seriously, the individual context of your situation weighs much much higher. I would only use advise in situations where I have zero ideas what to do next, and then only to start brainstorming.
Sometimes you have to do things that might even seem weird to other people. But always remember that other people are there to achieve their own goals, not yours. Even your parents might have goals that are competing with yours. E.g. they want you to be financially save because if you're not then they might need to take care of you again.
It's not a die roll. It's more like hundreds of separate die rolls with their own different probabilities and outcomes. It's how good the team is, he good you are at several different competencies (including toilet cleaning) and if your idea of an Uber for hair extensions is the hottest new thing or just dead in the water.
This, in the end, approximates a continuous distribution.
If 95% of solo-founded startups fail outright before raising any venture capital, but only 80% of co-founded startups do, these numbers don't really mean anything -- you're better off finding a co-founder in terms of raw career success and entrepreneurial potential.
The only relevant information here is that once startups have gone through some sort of basic fundraising filter, solo-founded startups are more common than not. I would hazard a guess that there are a lot more solo-founded startups at the top of the funnel than in stage two. Let's see attrition rates at each stage (Founded, Angel, Seed, Series A, Series B, [...], Exit).
(That said: I generally agree with the statement that you don't need a co-founder. If you have the ability to execute, build and let a co-founder "find you" if necessary.)
Say on AVERAGE 50% of 2-man startups win, but only 10% of 1-man startups win. And you are anti-social. YOUR personal win rate may well be higher as a 1-man startup, averages be damned.
Averages are cool to think about a problem. But know yourself. Your correct choice may not be the average best choice.
(That said I started solo and roped in my wife when I needed some gaps filled, but that was a good path for my style. I do not suggest it as a general path others should take).
Anecdotal evidence: How often have you gotten stuck on a problem, but as soon as you start explaining it to someone else you immediately know the answer?
Maybe those who are successful as entrepreneurs without co-founders have learned to exercise both of these dialogues alone?
I am a solo founder and I spent a lot of time talking to friends in my industry and early employees.
I think the reason YC and other incubators want cofounders is because it hedges their risk. If one founder gets sick or goes against YC's advice they can apply pressure through the other founder, and in extreme cases team up with other investors to oust the bad founder. If it's a solo founder they own too much of the company to divide and conquer so they can't make any power plays. I'm not saying that these moves are always bad - in general investors want the company to succeed. They just rather have an option than to put all their eggs in one basket with a solo founder.
I always figured it would be missing lots and lots of data, seeing how it's self reported, and founders are likely to be something left out due to falling out and what not..
Don't ever let another person distract you from your vision.
I think "success" should be measured in exits or ongoing profitable operations, as well as revenue growth over time. Looking at that data set and seeing if number of founders had a positive or negative effect would be very interesting, but perhaps more difficult to gather.
And as long as I am wishing for the perfect data set I would also include founder happiness (maybe using spousal divorce or tenure at the company as a proxy?). Because you might have an exit but have totally destroyed your personal life, and that doesn't sound like success to me.
you have a pool of 10 companies
6 of them exit
3 of the companies who exited had 2 founders each
3 of the companies who exited had one founder
in this world:
66% of founders who have exited, have had cofounders
if you are a person who is founding a company, does bringing on a cofounder increase your chance of exiting in this world?