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Ask HN: How to found a company as a single founder?
446 points by nns 39 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 231 comments
As a single founder with a strong idea, how would you about founding your startup and possibly attracting co-founders and talent to work with you.



You don't have to have superpowers.

You just have to have some product sense, some engineering chops, and the ability to take 6 months off (not everyone can afford this, and that sucks) to build the thing and see if you can get people to look at it and buy it.

You'll learn all the other stuff along the way (taxes, marketing, and eventually: hiring). Just give it a shot. If you run out of savings and have to go back to work, in interviews you'll get to say you "did a startup."

My company is bootstrapped. It isn't growing fast enough to fit PG's definition of a startup, but it's 5 years old and makes 7 figures.

Realizing after a few months that I didn't have to do a "startup" really helped. Whew, no more putzing with decks, trying to figure out how to get into an incubator, trying to raise funds, trying to convince one of my friends to quit their job and be my cofounder, "hustling", committing myself to never sleeping again. I could just focus on building a great product.

And I think my company worked because I was product focused. In the early days I just thought a lot about what the /best possible/ solution to the problem I was solving would look like, built what I saw, put it in front of friends (and eventually strangers from the internet), and made tweaks based on their feedback (and things they didn't say but that I noticed about how they used it).

This is contrary to the "sell first" idea--when I tried to cold pitch friends on my product idea they all said "eh, I don't think I'd really use it over the existing solutions." Those same friends asked me to comp their accounts a couple years later.

It worked for me. "Sell first" might be more important if you're selling to businesses? But like, getting the "x first" part wrong for a few months probably isn't going to kill you. Just start doing stuff. Wiggle around in your space until things start to catch.


I've had the exact same experience with "sell first" on various user applications. Pitch something to people and they're lukewarm. Make the product, in my case first and foremost for myself, and they end up gushing over it in practice.

Always brings me back to Henry Ford:

- "If I'd ask people what they want, they'd have said faster horses."

- "The customer can have their car painted any color, as long as it's black."

And there was of course similar mentality from many contemporary entrepreneurs, probably most famously with Steve Jobs. The rise of design by focus group is likely why things like independent video games have been able to do as phenomenally well as they have. One guy makes Minecraft in his spare time, makes billions. Massive AAA corporation with ostensibly elite business leadership and development personnel produce uninspired shooter/stabber #7,843,235 and barely break even after covering their 9 figure marketing and development budgets. Then they blame mobile, or piracy. I love it!


I hate that quote. They wouldn't have wanted faster horses, they'd have wanted something faster (or lower maintenance, or cheaper) than a horse.


For most people who ride horses, a faster horse is the only sensible next step.

That quote quite succinctly points out a bunch of human behaviors.

Just ask the next person you meet about their solution on high rent, bad traffic, etc. to get a sense of what I'm talking about.


The solution to traffic jams is naturally ‘more roads’!


Move out into the country. It’s lovely.


A better solution is to live IN the city and get rid of the car entirely.


> My company is bootstrapped. It isn't growing fast enough to fit PG's definition of a startup, but it's 5 years old and makes 7 figures.

Very impressive. Thanks for sharing! Is this https://interviewcake.com?


Yep


Wow. You were a lifesaver for me. I got into my dreamjob, thanks to interview cake.

To anybody looking to switch jobs in a computer science field, I will strongly recommend interview cake. It's insanely good.


Which product did you get?


looks awesome- i'm assuming there's no secret funnel for HN with preferential pricing? :)


Part of the excellence of interviewcake is that it feels like it was made by a person. When you're reading passages on the site, you can tell that the same person wrote them all. When you have an issue or a suggestion, you email it in, and the founder emails you back immediately.

It doesn't feel like a venture-backed company that provides an anemic free trial, but designs the entire product to upsell you to the subscription. Nope. It costs a few hundred bucks. Take it or leave it. If it doesn't work, you can get a refund.

This probably isn't a scalable way to do business, but isn't it nice that ignoring the growth impulse can actually make your product better?


I'm trying to launch a startup now...

https://getpolarized.io/

What I've been mostly focusing on is product market fit and growth.

I think I have the product market fit down but the growth aspect is what's challenging me right now.

I don't want to just buy growth now as I'm not convinced (yet) that our user base will actually pay.

Additionally, I have to figure out a way to get a steady supply of new users through some growth channel and that's the area where I'm still lagging.


Well, people who care enough about reading to pay money for a better reading experience will want your product. Now, who cares enough about reading? People who have to read and people who want to read.

One the side of people who want to read, you have an opportunity to show them how much better reading is with your product. How do you do that??! Things that come to mind:

- A collection of blog articles on how to read more with an upsell to try your product

- A free course on how to read more with your product.

- Be a guest on reading/book podcasts. This is usually low cost/cheap and it provides a way to show social proof on your site ("As featured on the $podcast").

- Online book communities.

- Writing communities.

On the side of people who have to read, you have an opportunity to sell a solution to their pain. Reaching them will mean you have to split it into verticals. You can simply focus in one vertical (law industry as an example), set a time/money goal, and if it doesnt work out move to another. Reaching them is a matter of leveraging linknedin's data. Things you can do are:

- Write/Offer white papers on how to declutter their text based work process.

- Provide free consultations on decluttering their text based work.

---

It's all high effort. There are no shortcuts. You will have to be very honest with yourself and figure out if you really want to do these things. Best of luck.


I hadn't heard of this before, and looks really nice. I'd want integrations with apps I already have such content in, mainly Pocket, GoodReader (iPad), and Zotero. I'd need a way to read on my iPad, though, as that's where I read almost everything. I'd pay for those features.


i just posted on IH this question about wanting to find something like this..you might be my saviour?

[1] Ask HN : Get Pocket + Notes , does it exist ?

>Hey there community. Im tired of saving stuff to read later without activating it. I wish to get deeper in my workflow and "read and take notes" on what i save for later. If no note is taken, that's a signal of no interest My ideal workflow would be :

[1]https://www.indiehackers.com/forum/ask-hn-get-pocket-notes-d...


I'm a big fan of what you're trying to do here - have been using the app for a while now. Feel free to contact me - my email is on my profile. I put on dinners in SF that might be helpful too.


Very interesting product! Great job!


> You just have to have […] the ability to take 6 months off

Agree with everything except that. I've founded multiple companies while being employed full time, albeit not "startups."


May I ask, how old were you when you attempted this and at what stage of your personal/professional life? I like the idea of taking 6 months off, but for persons in their 40s or later, it might be a serious risk, especially when mortgages run.


I'm 36 and attempting this right now, with a wife, kid and mortgage. It's a bit terrifying, I am about to start picking up some contracting work. Been 'unemployed' for almost 4 months now.


I was 22/23--a year and a half or so out of college.


^ that my guy!

Very good point about the "sell first" idea. It's important to try to de-risk ideas as much as possible, and to some extent it's doable for B2B startups, but you really can never completely de-risk a startup concept without actually building a product or service and making it succeed.


Serial single founder here. Start building and start selling. If you can’t deliver a product to a paying customer solo then you’re not cut out to be a sole founder.


I agree with this except switch the order. First, start selling. Then start building.

It is so easy to waste so much time building something nobody wants, and you won't know until it's too late if you try to sell it afterward.

Selling first will inform your decisions on what to build.


Can I ask an honest question respectfully? I don’t have a company or a startup. But I’ve always wanted to start one. So I’m always curious when I see a response like yours.

How do you sell first? There isn’t a product to show. How do you find Customers? Is it the philosophy that the customer doesn’t know better and you have to tell them what they need, all the while understanding what your capabilities are. Like undersell and overdeliver? I’m genuinely curious how you go about selling first.


I'm creating an open source todo list + calendar webapp (https://getartemis.app, source at https://github.com/satvikpendem/artemis) made by just me, and I can tell you how I approached the problem.

The video you see on the front page does not exist in code, it is simply a prototype designed with Figma (https://figma.com) and animated with Principle (https://principleformac.com). I created the landing page and video, added a Mailchimp form, and I posted on Twitter, Reddit, and here on Hacker News, the communities in which it made sense. For me, it's a productivity / task management tool, so I would post on reddit.com/r/getdisciplined or reddit.com/r/productivity.

It's all about creating a minimum viable product, as you might well be aware, but what you may not know is that an MVP need not have code. Indeed, it could be a video as I did, and I think for software, a video works best as people can actually see what it looks and feels like, without you necessarily creating the product architecture (full frontend and backend plus devops etc). Now I have over 150 subscribers in only a month due to rapid creation of this type of MVP, and based on this feedback, I changed my designs, and only now I am beginning to really create the heart of the product.

Using non-code MVPs is the best way in my opinion to sell quickly before building.


Really good advice about non-code MVP. It reminded me of this seminal post: https://blog.bufferapp.com/idea-to-paying-customers-in-7-wee.... The heart of the idea is that an MVP isn't really a Product; it's something to validate against.

How specificlaly did you go about promoting your landing page? Just 'hey check this out posts', or did you focus on comments/answers to questions? And how much time do you have invested in this so far?

If you get some free time, you might want to also post this on indiehackers.com. Could help a lot of people out there.


I'm a somewhat frequent contributor on IndieHackers actually. To promote the page, I basically posted it everywhere I could (without getting banned) and started asking my friends to critique the site. When applicable, I would also answer questions on fora as I am now. In terms of time, I'm not really sure, it's an on and off commitment as I also have a job.

Anything other questions or anything you're working on as well?


I'd like to know more about the "not getting banned" part. Reddit communities are notorious for not wanting to be sold to. what's your approach? how do you articulate the post? maybe you could share a link to an actual post as an example?

thanks for the insight!


Many subreddits have rules on when you can do self promotion, such as a separate thread or a specific day for posting. That's when I do it. [See this post for example](https://old.reddit.com/r/getdisciplined/comments/a3oz48/meth...). As well, you can see in that post that I don't directly promote my app but instead I ask questions regarding the process by which people schedule their day.

Provide value without expecting value in return. If you look on [/r/entrepreneur](www.reddit.com/r/entrepreneur), you can see some posts where people use their blog posts as a reddit post, which provides value for those who don't read their specific blog. Then, you can link back to your own blog at the end of the post. In doing so, you provide value before you promote yourself, and so any products or services you then promote will be associated with quality to your readerbase.


Thanks for posting this. I am at a very similar place with startups where I am attempting to stop just paying lip service to lean startup ideas. I'm going to look into the tools you mentioned.

BTW, the last startup I worked at we were building a really cool "timeline" interface using react. I see you are using Vue but we still might have some interesting discussions. I found some really fun/difficult product and technical problems with developing that type of interface.


I joined a startup a few years ago and I did see this in action. The founder was such a believer in his vision he would go to whatever door he managed to get through and was selling them his mock-ups. He is not technical but he has go a good eye to UI and also had great idea. When I joined him (I'm technical with no eye to UI and not very good at human relations) he already had customers aligned (no product yet) and also won 4 desks in local incubator (big brand's incubator...) I found this astonishing and to date I am under impression trying to learn from him where I lack.


I've worked at a couple startups where we would speak MVP with our lips but our actions did not follow our words. None of them were ultimately successful.


It only works for some kind of products and some kind of buyers, obviously. You can't sell someone a can of tomatoes based on a demo.

But, if the value you can provide is immediately obvious to the customer, rather than an incremental improvement on their existing situation, then you can get them to express interest before you have a finished product to provide them with.


exactly. most products don't exist in a vacuum.

"sell first" works if you have such a unique solution/value such that for the customer it's a "either this demo or nothing" situation. that's exceedingly rare.

most of the time there's a healthy large existing set of solutions serving the same market so it's difficult to justify using something new.

even if you have some unique selling points they may not be strong enough or they may be canceled out by the lack of other features and maturity of your new product vs existing established ones.

for example let's say your product is a customer support software. how do you "sell first" when there are so many mature existing companies solving the same problem?

how long will it take you to reach the same capabilities, support, security, reliability of existing solutions?

are your differentiating points really strong enough that someone's going to say "screw Zendesk I'm going to try this random new one-man product because they have this feature X"?


You pretend to have a product, and try to sell it -- market it, advertise, etc. If you get people trying to buy it / use it, you know you're going in the right direction.

So yes, basically you bullshit everyone with some mockups and a pretty website, to determine if anyone would even be interested in the thing you want to build.


Selling isn't just the monetary transaction. It's research, outreach, CRM, pipeline, working on the descriptions, marketing text, blog posts.

All of these things can be done while making the product and will inform the production process.

But.. I need to take my own advice. Too easy to retreat to building. Or passively reading and thinking that is market research.

That's my safety zone, hidden away from scrutiny and judgement.


You may be able to make a sale and then build it and still keep the sale, but if you think that this is too risky with respect to reputation or having a customer depend on what you’re selling be ready, it’s still worth going through the sales cycle until you’ve found something you can sell.

It won’t magically get easy to sell the product when it’s ready, so it’s possible eliminate bad ideas which are hard for you to sell early, even if you let the sale fall through towards the end.


Once you find a real pain points, people will beg you to buy/use your product, even if all you have is a crappy version rushed out.

To be clear, some startups require to have a super polished version to be successful. But even then, there's often a way to have customers pilot an early version or cheaply test the market.


> "Is it the philosophy that the customer doesn’t know better and you have to tell them what they need"

Yes and no. One of the only people to have ever done that successfully that I know of was Steve Jobs, and that's what made him a one-of-a-kind genius billionaire. Believing you can do the same will cause your wheels to spin endlessly without going anywhere. It's pure hubris.

On the flip side, it certainly can help to have some insight, intuition, or flash of inspiration for a product or service. When you have the idea, then you have a hypothesis. Don't treat a hypothesis like a fact! This is where people make the biggest mistake.

Your goal is then to find evidence related to the idea. The evidence will tell you whether the hypothesis has potential or whether it's completely bogus.

Two big places you can find evidence: competitors and customers.

If there are already competitors in your field, that's a big piece of evidence that your idea has merit. If there are no competitors, that doesn't necessarily mean that you don't have a chance, but definitely take it as a sign that there's probably a good reason there's nobody else doing it.

If you can find customers, it's nearly proof that you're onto something. Just be cautious because sometimes people will say they like your idea and genuinely believe to themselves that they would pay for it but then actually not in reality.

> "How do you sell first?"

The biggest way that I know of is basically just communicating with people. Find a way to get someone on the phone or get them to open your email or even see them in person, and then pitch your idea to them.

If you're selling a service then it isn't too difficult because you can just verbalize the service and gauge their response. When they like your idea it will be very obvious because they will get excited. If they're not excited then you're talking to the wrong market or your idea/hypothesis needs to be reworked.

If you're selling a product it's essentially the same, but you may need some simple mockups/pictures just to help communicate the idea. You really do not need a full fledged working product or even an "MVP" for this.

The concept of an "MVP" is a huge source of confusion because it assumes you know what "minimally viable" even means. How can you build an MVP when you have no idea what to consider "minimally viable?" The MV part of MVP completely depends on your customer. No customer, no MVP. (This may not quite apply if you're building something specifically to fulfill a need that you have.)

Hope this helps!

By the way, please take this with a grain of salt. This is my personal experience from a couple of failed startups and zero successful startups. I'm clearly not an expert.


Go to a store nearby.

Buy something.

Put it on Ebay.

Sell it.

Tinker with the product description and price and measure results.

Rinse and repeat.

You will learn more than many wanna bes.


The advice makes sense, but isnt it a bit of chicken-and-egg? How do you sell something you haven't built? (or is it really .. build a little, or enough to illustrate; then 'sell' to validate and seek market fit; and then finally truly build?)


It's essentially the build a little/sell/build a lot cycle you mentioned, but you want to minimize the first step as much as possible. As tech folks, it's easy for us to overestimate the importance of technology to our end customers. They're not buying code, they're buying a solution that will make their life easier/better.

"Sales" is a long term process, but the first meeting usually starts with understanding the customer's problem. If you build something before that (and demo it at the beginning of the meeting), you can bias the process with your assumptions. Instead, if you try to get inside the mind of your customer, you can get closer to the correct solution.

For a lot of those first sales meetings, you don't necessarily need technology to demo. Instead of showing/telling your customer, you're starting by listening. Then, you can build a small demo of something interesting before the next meeting (often, this is more to keep the conversation going and explore new ideas than to immediately solve the customer's entire problem).

I agree with the other comments mentioning an initial (days/weeks long) MVP build cycle. However, over the past few years, I've found it helpful to adopt this mindset: "my idea for the best possible product is at least slightly wrong, and the more code I write the harder it is to fix". There's a psychological concept of functional fixedness, where you view an object only as its traditional use. I think a similar concept exists in technology. Particularly as a founders-only company, the technology you build has some inertia, and impacts your mental models of the problem you are trying to solve. The more code you write, the higher the "cost" of changing (both in your mental models, and the technology itself).

All this really means is you're right about the build a little/sell/build more cycle - but what you build is less important than what the customer says. The first build is often just a means to start an interesting conversation about the customer's true problem, and you might need less technology for that than you initially assume.


MVP or fake page with credit card info or email information that says you're sold out.

If you can convert random users to paying customers then you're on to something. Otherwise your project is most likely going to flounder. Some people may think it's dishonest but without verifying you're going to spend weeks to months working on something that will never be used.


That might work for physical product, but when you claim your software download is sold out, people tend to give you funny looks.

You can definitely put up a product page where users can enter an email address and start building up a mailing list, but obviously mailing list recipients are not guaranteed to pay you money.


The purpose is to get some kind of signal that you're on the right track. Many times I've seen would be founders just go off of a hunch without a buy in from any possible users of any degree. Even their voluntary email sign up is far more of a sign than what the founders know users want.


Or, even better, build a minimal MVP (1-2 weeks dev time) and use this to attract attention and get feedback.


Not every product can get to MVP in two weeks. If you were building a new kind of airplane, it better take more than two weeks. Our software is quite complex and there isn't going to be an MVP in two weeks, lol!

I do think that building a UI prototype that you can click through is a good first step for complex software.


Absolutely, good point.


Ok, but such quick MVP should have some secret sauce - ideally introduce a complexity with a special dependency, otherwise nothing stops a potential lead to take the idea and implement it with someone else.


In the brief period I was running my own company (with a friend, not solo) the product we sold was largely unbuilt, or were selling features we hadn't yet built.

We were the 'technical creatives' and with an idea and a cost, and went out to find people who we could sell it to to enable us to build it and make it better for all the users. As our product was video crossover - this was a little easier as people are used to paying for a video before you've made it, but video was actually a very small part of what we were offering - and sometimes not at all.

But selling things that have been bukt yet shouldn't be impossible, or even hard - as long as you can show a track record of delivery.


for me, at least, it feels like "selling first" means getting product feedback first.

so, setup a landing page with a "send us our email so we can tell you when our tool is read!" form and see if it attracts people.


Depends the kind of product you are building but you don't necessary even need market validation, you only need it if your product is exotic enough that there's nothing close to it.


realistically this only works for unique products there are so many alternatives for EVERYTHING that most people will just move on to something that is ready today instead.


I hate this advice so much. I've been burned as a developer so many times by people selling products that don't exist and then expecting the dev team to just make them happen by some arbitrary deadline. It's a garbage experience for pretty much everyone.

But I'm not going to argue against it right now. It's too deeply ingrained as startup wisdom to fight it. So instead, I'll offer this compromise: if you're going to sell first and build later, at least build some basic things up front that you are guaranteed to need and that most startups don't build until long after they should.

1. You already know what your programming language strengths and weaknesses are. You can make decisions for your first product iteration already. Are you going to start with a web app? You probably already know what language you want to use. Choose your frameworks, and choose frameworks that address the OWASP top 10 at least. If you are storing data, you have a responsibility--even as a sole founder--to take security seriously. You can think about that and make decisions while you are selling, so do it. You can also make a decision to not store data or store as little as possible and choose frameworks and plugins that help you do that.

2. Along the same lines, if software is involved you have to have a way to deploy it. Set up your DevOps pipeline. If you listened to the first point, you've got somewhere to start. Take your app framework and your plugins and set up a pipeline for deploying/rolling back/backing up/restoring the very basic "hello world" version of the app + plugins. Use a service if you aren't already into DevOps personally--most of these things have a free tier. If you are looking for a native app of some kind, navigate the platform's app store at least once so you know what you're in for. Or if it's cross-platform how you will get the latest version to your users. None of these decisions matter right now in terms of what decisions you make, just that you do make them and learn how to use things.

If you are going to commit to selling first and then building, you are already shortchanging the amount of time you have to deliver after the product is sold. If you haven't made any of these decisions, the time between when you make your first sale and when you deliver it is going to be absolute shit. Give yourself the ability to use that time 100% focused on building the product confidently because you already know how you're going to build it and how you're going to deliver it.


I'm a professional software engineer too and know what you mean. It sounds like you're thinking like an engineer. That's great for building things, not selling them.

You can have the best infrastructure, best pipelines, devops, security, frameworks, styleguides, libraries, etc. etc. Sadly none of that means you're building something anybody wants.

You can spend years building something undoubtedly technically amazing. Yet if you didn't make sure there was a market first you face the very real prospect that people will go "That's nice, why do I care?"

Your advice is great for a personal project that you don't intend to directly make money with. Still would be excellent on a resumé however.


I agree with you. Thinking about setting up a DevOps pipeline before you have anything to send through it (and even before knowing if you'll ever have anything to send through it) has a name in lean management: it's called waste™️. There's so many other things to do instead that could bring immediate value


> You already know what your programming language strengths and weaknesses are. You can make decisions for your first product iteration already. Are you going to start with a web app? You probably already know what language you want to use.

I think if you are thinking about programming language strength and weaknesses when building a product you need to rethink your approach.

Building a great product has very little to do with technology choice, especially at the beginning. Building a great product is about solving a real pain for your target customer and solving it in a novel and delightful way.


I totally agree.

I've found Steve Blanks book "The Startup Owner's Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company" very insightful.


This is completely rational and works well for some people, but speaking from experience, there is another side to this coin.

If you are the sort of person who enjoys the making side of things, and aren't naturally gifted at selling, this can be a trap. I've seen so many solo founders try to validate a product by selling before building, only to get talked into different features and use cases until they're stuck building some bloated mess of a service. Not super enjoyable.

That said, if selling is your strong suit and you have the discipline to sell a product idea without deviating from your product idea to chase sales, then selling as a validation tool is fantastic.


If you can't sell - should you really attempt to be a solo founder? If you aren't strong enough to 'own the feature-set' and work with potential clients now, will you be the right person to run the company later?

This is a provocation/question - not a statement of fact btw!


Selling/customer development is a skill you can learn—and absolutely must learn if you want to hack it as a single founder. The real trap is staying in your comfort zone.


Definetly not something you have to learn. If you build something customers really want then the product will probably sell itself, and no selling or marketing will be needed.


Real life disagrees with you.

Not saying that this never happens, but it is extremely rare and closer to gambling than to running a company.


Single founder here. I think this doesn't work in B2B or may be I am talking to the wrong people, most of the potential customers I've spoken to want to see something - so the first question they ask is what have you built. This is in financial industry, building fraud product and like I said I may not know the right people to talk to. I think having domain contacts in B2B works great, specifically if you have somewhat tried to solve the problem before. I think PG writes this in one of the essays.


It can work in B2B, but maybe harder in finance as you say.


I disagree, you should know enough about what field in your in so that you have some credibility.


If you can’t deliver a product to a paying customer solo then you’re not cut out to be a sole founder.

I really dislike the tone and content of this advice.

I am a solo founder. My first venture (as part of a team) failed - even though we had a product, we had no paying customers and there were other issues. It would have been terrible had someone given advice like this right after that happened - "you're not cut out to be a founder because X or Y." One of the great things about being any kind of founder is learning from mistakes, picking yourself up off the ground, and then creating something that works.


Its not like being a founder is a magical thing. Honestly, being a founder is just someone who can grind it out under adverse conditions. Like any other shit job out there. The point still stands. If you cant grind it out and sell, the core of entrepreneurship, then maybe its not for you.

Edit: typo


> If you cant grind it out and sell, the core of entrepreneurship, then maybe its not for you

Yes, I think it's the no 1 reason I saw solopreneneur friends fail. Most are just not willing to put the hours in. I see that people really like to dream and make big plans but sitting down consistently after work each day and actually working on all the mundane small things is a necessity many are not willing to do. The idea/business might still fail but without actually doing anything you have lost already.


Not only the mundane, but the amount of decision making involved. You cant spend too much time and energy on decisions. Most people dont like making decisions. There are many kind of decisions. If you grow big enough, the well being of your employees depends on your decisions. Most cant handle that.

Entrepreneurship is as glamorous as being a doctor at the emergency room.


If the words of some random person on the internet can dissuade you from being a founder then you're not cut out to be a founder.


It's not personal, everyone can grow in it.

But a good salesman can even sell a mediocre product to more people than someone with a good product. And he'll grab more money to, because he isn't afraid to raise the price


Solo founder here. Same advice with the caveat that 98% of people should never be solo founders - you must be able to code and sell - but even if you can you should still get a partner if they double your speed.


Another reason to consider not going solo is that some experienced engineers will consider it a black mark - here's a guy who either believes he can do it all -or- is too greedy/control-freaky to share; this is someone who didn't meet someone better than themselves in their career or simply couldn't recognize that fact.

The few solo founders I have personally dealt with have fit that description exactly.


Eh. If you’re a good salesman you can sell engineers on joining your company.


I think it would be a distinct recruitment advantage not to have a cofounder. You could reallocate equity you would have given to a cofounder, to early employees. Cofounder or no, money talks.


Maybe it’s my different experience and age, but I definitely nudge people away from solo startups using the examples I’m referring to as concrete examples when talking live to friends.

Reality is no one is so good that having another voice in the room isn’t usually an advantage for the leaf nodes. There are plenty of people who believe they are, though.

I will say this only applies to more traditional startups - seeking funding, hiring a team. It’s different when the solo entrepreneur builds and sells and then is hiring to augment the company. Not sure I would join that either but it is different.


Agree completely. I've never heard of a major company founded by someone who couldn't sell. Those people make products, not businesses, as Mark Cuban says a lot on Shark Tank.


What if cannot code to the level needed to get an MVP?


Hire someone who can.


Even if they only increase your speed by 50%, it seems like a worthwhile gain. Anything to get to that escape velocity.


Partners increase failure cases too. Arguments, differing visions, different commitments.

Pros and cons to both paths.

I think the biggest reason not to go solo, is not many people are good at both the tech AND talking to customers and thinking big picture.


This pretty much sums up everything. I had a similar problem trying to sell my products. If you're a solo founder learn how to sell first. Finding cool marketing strategies is great, but people need to see real faces before buying your products. It is not always true, but in general that is what I've seen so far.


Could you expand on the "real faces" part as opposed to, say, a good stable of content and decent testimonials?

Do you mean full on sales calls (vs. just marketing) would be needed for a SaaS product of relative complexity? Or am I missing the point?

Thanks


Sure, by real faces I mean pitching your product to people directly. Not necessarily over the Internet but in person. This is a step that is often missed by a lot of tech people wannabe entrepreneurs (including myself). We think the Internet is a magic place where you can launch anything from your bedroom and reach millions of people if you use the right marketing strategy (ads on youtube, cold emails, viral strategy, gamification, etc). I call this the scaling phase. You can't scale nothing. If you have zero user and zero customer, what do you want to scale?

So step zero consist on acquiring your first customer/user. This is usually when having a non-tech co-founder or someone who's good at selling would make a huge difference. We always bypass this step of acquiring the first customers, it's only when you build something and ship it that you hit a wall. You will not rank in google at first, no one will ever mention your name and the only queries you'll get on your SaaS or whatever product you have will come from your own IP. That's what I'm talking about. You just launched, now what?

So you need to go out there and "manually" pitch your product to people. Introduce yourself, tell your story, prove people what you've built is what they want. You would usually fail capturing the needs at first because of a lack of interaction with your targeted users, you will build something that isn't exactly what they want. So you need to quickly adapt to that early feedback, which is why going out there and trying out your MVP or prototype very quickly is a key to success. This is what I mean by "people need to see real faces". You could pitch your product to your mom, friends, potential users, potential partners who could help you move to the next step, etc.

The best way to find out "how to found a company as a single founder" is to give it a shot. You'll basically collect all the answers to your question.


Even with a SaaS product, unless it's really really cheap, many customer will want to talk with you on the phone or in a video call. It happened to me a lot.


As someone who has been selling all my life, I'm not sure it's a teachable skill. Yes, everyone can learn to improve, but some part of salesmanship has to be in your blood.

With developers routinely making over $200k in Silicon Valley now, if you're a "product person" and not a salesperson, you can probably earn more as an employee than an entrepreneur.


That's easy to say. I can deliver the product, but I'm worried about sales taxes, VAT, compliance with laws, administration, support, etc.


Being a founder means solving all these problems everyday as a background task (usually by hiring a lawyer, payroll firm, accountant, etc). A mentor can help you with the basics and the timing for hiring professionals.


This, plus, just start. There are lots of things you won't know, always. You'll need to dig in and figure out what you need to know. Outsourcing is a good option for things if you have the money. However, you need to understand what you're paying for.


"just start", sounds like a minefield if you want to take money from day zero.


you either just start, and fumble through and make it or never start. there is no such thing as perfectly figuring it all out and then starting. I desperately wish there was, but it doesn't exist.


To clear the minefield someone has to step on them basically. Fortunately these mines won't kill you and you will learn how to disarm them as you walk through the minefield.


I'll try to automate all of this as much as possible. The sad thing is I just want a side project but all this seems mandatory like I'm building a full-blown startup, puts me off.


Taxes, VAT, compliance are mundane.

Marketing/Selling, and building the right thing ... this is the hard part.

If you can do the later, most of the ops becomes ... just ops. It's just work. It can be done.


So what do you suggest if the ops thing freaks me out to the extent of stress? I'd be happy to take on a cofounder to handle that.


Not knowing what your business is, those are probably minor things you don't need a co-founder for. Just get an accountant/bookeeper on the financial side, you'll need on anyhow. Do some online reading about cookies and GDPR if you have concerns there and don't stress about it - nobodies going to hunt you down if you're very small fish. If you have serious money coming in you can have a more serious look into it - those issues are not fundamental.

If you need to hire people, open an office, write up contracts, deal with immigration lawyers, deal with tricky shareholder stuff, manage customer accounts ... then maybe you need someone to help.


Ops isn't a problem until you're successful, the taxman won't come after you if you have 10k in revenue, customers won't complain if you haven't sold things to them. It really isn't something to worry about now, at all. Get stressed over not getting any sales, that's what should be freaking you out.


I don’t know, this sounds like kind of a given to me.

If you can’t build it you have no business.

If you can’t sell it you have no business either.


"Draw the rest of the fucking owl"


What is your tech stack? Go, C#, Rust, Javascript?


+1


It's still too early to declare my new project a success but compared to several failures, it seems like I've finally cracked the code.

There are a number of things I am doing differently this time, but the most significant seems to be that I am now using a coach. This would have made me laugh earlier but it's been great value to me. As a single founder, it can be very hard to stick to commitments and keep a clear vision. So I take calls with my coach every two or three weeks to discuss priorities and goals for next time. She will then ping me regularly and keep me committed -- and call me on my bullshit if I try to weasel out of something.

It feels like some sort of life-cheat-code. I say something that I want to happen on the phone, and then it happens! It doesn't just apply to my business, for instance I've finally managed to meditate consistently because of her. I wish I had discovered this years ago! :-)


Where did you find your coach?



It makes perfect sense. It's the same reason I always suggest to someone who's struggling with weight to get a fitness coach; not necessarily for the advice but just so they've got someone to stay accountable to, at least until they build up good habits on their own.


All problems in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection.


A coach finding coach?


AbstractCoachProxyFactoryBean.


Sounds like my girlfriend. :P

Naw, but I guess that's technically two people.


Is your coach open to more clients?


I imagine so. https://robincangie.me/


I am solo founder and developer of Sciter Engine : https://sciter.com

The project got first customers in 2005 so it is afloat 13 years so far. Until 2014 it was a side project. Since then I am working on it full time as a solo founder and developer.

Initial version was pretty simple so I was able to do it after official work hours and at weekends. Thus I didn't need any funding at that time.

The project has definitely over grown single person model now so I am actively looking for partners, cooperation, investors, teams, etc.

So are couple of advices:

1. If you can do it initially as a side project - consider this option first. Could be hard but will minimize negative budget impact and other risks.

2. The project shall reach the stage of minimal viable products in not more than 9 months. For many reasons.

3. You should do it in modular architecture: if first one will not take off you will have ready to use components for the next one.


> You should do it in modular architecture: if first one will not take off you will have ready to use components for the next one.

This is actually really great advice! I sold my previous side project and still had lots of reusable code to use for https://tinytracker.co


Did you build first then sell? Can you elaborate on minimal product in not more than 9 months?


Yes, I've created initial version of the engine first. In may case the need of having embeddable HTML engine was well known - people were trying to embed IE quite frequently. Even Microsoft itself was trying to put it everywhere they can.

The question was on different angle: can single person compete with the whole IE team at MS to achieve anything viable. And that required the engine to be present to try by others.

Initial version was very basic HTML renderer named HTMLayout that time. Made site for it and published couple of articles about it. These allowed me to gather requirements and estimate interest/market for it.

After that modules of HTMLayout were assembled into Sciter, with additions of CSS and scripting.

As of 9 months...

I've participated in many projects, successful ones took 9 months from first PRD to alpha/beta stage. Longer projects, as a rule, were less successful. Team lost the steam, etc.

YMMV of course, but 9 months to create something, seems like is embedded into human nature. I cannot provide any formal proof, just a feeling supported by 30 years of experience in the business.


Your three superpowers as a solo founder need to be:

1) Deep expertise and network with potential customers

2) Ability to empathize and connect with your customers and sell the thing

3) Ability to build some sort of MVP

The deep expertise and empathy will allow you to hone in on the problem you know your customers will face, and so you can narrow down the "paradox of choice" of different features/products you can build. It'll give you a much better starting point for experimentation and iteration. Start small. Talk to these folks. Get people to validate your idea. If you don't have an existing network where you can talk to 30-50 customers (100 is better!), this will be a problem.

The empathy and salespersonship will allow you to get folks to give you feedback and/or pre-sell the thing. Maybe do consulting for them to earn revenue and testimonials. If you can't sell this, you're going to have a hard time.

Finally, you need to be able to build something that delivers value to your customers. You don't have to be the world's greatest programmer (actually, if you were that might hurt you more than it helps!) but you do need some programming chops. Maybe it's automation around an existing process (a chatbot that does something small). Or even a spreadsheet. Maybe it's a full-blown MVP. Either way, you don't have the revenue to pay a developer, and sharing context with someone that you can afford is likely very very difficult.

If you don't have these things, this will be really, really tough. If you do, it will still be very tough, but you have a much better chance of being successful.

Find a network of solopreneurs - either something local to you (where you can meet up periodically) or an online group. This will be invaluable as you run into challenges they solved, and then you can pay it forward for the people that will walk your path later. And, having a place to vent with empathetic folk will help keep you sane.

If you need any help, I'm happy to share my experiences solo-bootstrapping my company to 20+ people. Just email me matt [dot] rogish [at] gmail

Good luck!


Matt,

Would love to connect to learn more about your experiences- I'm at matt@puresomni.com. Is there a best email to reach you at?

Cheers,

Matt


Many intelligent comments in this thread; let me point out the underacknowledged.

You are limited by who you are. By your appearance, mannerisms, speech patterns. Your clothing, body language, grooming and hygiene. Your ingrained habits of action, speech and thought. Your age - foolish excitable youth or cramped, ossified old age. Your network and resume. Some of this can be improved, some can't.

It all sets an upper bound on your potential, but you could fall far short of this due to bad luck or bad execution. Almost nobody will be honest with you about any of this. Which means savvy observers may see your limits very quickly, but will not tell you.

Trust is a huge factor, and again, people will not be up front about this. A solo startup has a huge legitimacy gap if selling to big companies. You could just vanish, go on vacation, get sick, steal the company's data, sue the company claiming to be a de facto employee.

So acquire signals of legitimacy aggressively. Sell anything to a big corporation or government agency, no matter how small and out of your specialty, and you have a bragging point. Join industry associations. Get an advisory board with the right resumes. (All this assumes b2b).

If you are not likeable, you will have great difficulty selling. That includes pitching to investors, attracting co-founders, employees and beta testers.

Every time you have contact with a salesman - that includes missionaries, military recruiters, etc. - note down what they did that worked and didn't work. The common denominator I've seen in the good salesman is 1) being likeable and 2) understanding my particular situation.

If you see any way to get objective feedback on you, not the company - do it. For instance, bring a savvy observer on a sales call. He can be an investor, a salesman from one of your suppliers, or a paid advisor. I personally stumbled into that situation and benefited from it.

Maybe I'm overstating this because plenty of seemingly dislikeable people started successful companies.


> You are limited by who you are. By your appearance, mannerisms, speech patterns. Your clothing, body language, grooming and hygiene. Your ingrained habits of action, speech and thought. Your age - foolish excitable youth or cramped, ossified old age. Your network and resume. Some of this can be improved, some can't.

I am fascinated that someone has above attributes lined up in a way so that they can drive around in $100,000 cars, drop $10,000 for a family vacation without having to save for years, and live in a house that is literally a movie set.

And you have the opposite like poor and homeless.

Isn't life ... weird?


I've done it twice. The first time because I was so young. I'm not even sure "startup" was in our vocabulary in 2006. Oh boy I wish I would've had a founder to help me out. I had no idea how to monetize all the traffic I was getting. I learned to code while building the website, so things were pretty shotty. What could have been...

The second time I had to ditch my partner. I found him stealing money, he had no drive either. Just a wretched scrap of humanity. After taking the code and letting him keep the worthless domain he was supposed to do SEO on I registered a new domain and got the site up in a night. Ended up being reasonably profitable at $2,000 a month, but was just too much work for one person. I sold the site in 2014.

Since then every time I find a "co-founder" it seems I end up doing most of the work. Maybe there is something wrong with me or maybe its really hard to find a good co-founder.


"Good help is hard to find." is an age-old adage.


Other commentators have touched upon topics like building, selling, networking etc.. So I won't repeat those.

My advice is to first and foremost firewall your personal assets. It will save you a ton of regret and headache later if things go wrong.

- If you are in the US then start by forming an LLC (or Delaware C corp if you have the funds) with a separate bank account.

- If you are in the services business then get business insurance (quite affordable actually).

- Buy domain names. Also set up a time line for when you may want to register a trademark if that applies in your case.

- Create all necessary document templates ahead of time, for e.g. NDA, contracts, IP assignment etc. depending on what is applicable in your case.

Some additional advice :

- Never make verbal promises or handshake deals especially when you are scouting for a co-founder, contractors, or employees. It doesn't matter how well you know them.

- Avoid, to the extent you can, offering equity for services or deferred compensation. In the early stages it is quite possible that you will be using contractors. If you do then make sure the written agreement terms are solid and unambiguous.

- Read books like Deal Terms, Term Sheets and Valuations, Venture Deals, High Tech Startup, Founder's Dilemma, Fools Gold etc.. and become very familiar with the concepts and terms. I can't stress this enough -- be well informed! - Thoroughly understand cap tables and how they change over time/events.

- Read Getting To Yes (Harvard publication, if I remember correctly). Will help you with your negotiation skills.

- Consider startup incubators if that helps in your particular case. But be careful and understand the terms carefully. Some incubators will take a non-trivial amount of stock in exchange for very little.

About co-founders :

If you are passionate and/or good at selling your idea it is quite likely you will attract co-founders. Do not rush. Take your time to get to know them within the context of your startup regardless of how well you have known them personally.

- If you can try to work out a try-out phase with potential co-founders. But be very careful and make sure both parties sign proper agreements and are very clear about what they are getting from each other.

- Personally I am not a fan of part-time co-founders. If someone wants to join they are either all in or out.

- Please read Founder's Dilemma (Noam Wasserman).


I’ve been single founding side project ideas for years and that’s been a lot of fun. Recently I had a chance to do it full time for a long period of time. Having gone through that I will say that it isn’t something I would ever do alone again. The highs were muted and the lows were magnified. You are far better off if you can do the journey with someone than without anyone.

That being said here are some things that helped:

1. Have a friend that you can call that is interested enough to listen to what you’re doing. We joked that my buddy was like a free co-founder. This helped a lot but it was still not as great as the real thing.

2. Make lists. Figure out all of the things that need to happen for your month/week/day to be successful and figure out how to make that happen.

3. Focus on things that being small give you an advantage over a large company. One book I read said something along the lines of, “if you’re a small guy being chased by a big fat bully you should run up the stairs as it would be easier for you and tire the bully out”. How this plays out in practice is going to depend on your competition.

4. Don’t get married to your initial idea. It will certainly change as you learn more. The more resistance you put to change the longer it will take for you to find success. Start with something and start getting feedback ASAP.

5. Getting meetings is very hard. Cold calling sucks and cold emails are even worse. Use your network. Even people you might not think are connections can be huge help. When you’re stuck just go through your contact list thinking about how you can get a warm connection to what you’re trying to do. Be honest about why you are calling your contact so they don’t feel used.

6. This may be controversial but when you haven’t even validated the market unit tests just don’t seem like the best use of time.

Life is short and I find it more enjoyable with friends. If you’re like me then you’ll enjoy this journey more if you take someone with you. That being said I realize everyone is different. I thought being a solo founder was going to be great but next time I’m finding a buddy to join me.

If you want to bounce ideas off of a random person or hit me up for networking to get meetings you need please send me an email (in my profile). Good luck and enjoy the highs! They are so exciting.


Solo founder here. You have to have a growth mindset. It is your oxygen.

I was speaking to an entrepreneur today, trying to learn about his industry and sell him marketing services. The guy kept coming up with reasons not to grow. Even when I asked him, what if you had 20 more customers willing to spend $15K (his dream cust), he said he would have problems fulfilling those customers.

This guy does not have a growth mindset. Maybe that's by choice; maybe he is happy with the current revenue, which is fine.

But as a new entrepreneur, a growth mindset is essential. The best way I know to overcome this is to have a coach or even better a coach who has already built that kind of business you are trying to build.


Solo founder here. I've experienced several group size startups in the past 10+ years, and ultimately arrived to the conclusion that solo founder is the best option if you're cut out for it. As a solo founder you need to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Constantly experimenting, learning, and open to criticism.

I've been apart of large co-founder group (4+) which I don't recommend at all. Once our company went above 50-60 people the co-founder relationship just imploded and after 100+ employees, none of the co-founder were apart of the company and it eventually shut down by the investors who took over.

I've also had a co-founder where we tried but eventually had separation of idea and roadmap but the toll of the pressure was too much. You not only have to care deeply about the project but also the other co-founder and if one side is more into "glory" of a startup founder, then you're in a failing relationship.

As an eventual solo founder, I realized the size and ambitions of the "startup" are extremely important. Small ideas are ok but might not be exciting enough and big projects are nearly impossible to pull off. Figuring out how to recruit contractors and split the work load to achieve MVP is the trick.

Important tools and mindset you need to master: 1- Jobs to be done (JTBD) 2- Objectives and Key Results (OKR) 3- Sales pitch (not just a pitch deck or executive summary) 4- UX and technical skills (aka: jack of all trades) 5- People management (not just project/product management) 6- Open to criticism (nobody wants to tell you your baby is ugly, you have to assure them they can be honest with you and you'd want to hear the brutally honest feedback) 7- Go to market strategy (value props and business model) 8- Network effects 9- Time management 10- Business, legal, accounting, payroll and taxes


This is an encouraging post for someone who aspires to be a solo founder. Could you explain 1. JTBD and 7. Go to market strategy and how to practice/improve at them?


Best if you avoid incorporation until you are forced to. If/when you incorporate, do so as a LLC or SCorp (allowing pass-through taxation). CCorps now have a flat 25% tax rate which will be a high double-taxation while you are trying to grow.

edit: assuming you are in the USA. If in a bureaucratic nightmare of a country then you should avoid incorporation until you are extremely profitable. My own experience in Thailand: I incorporated early and was forced to hire a full time bookkeeper plus about 1 month/year accountant contractor to handle the government red tape


I am the sole founder and developer of Meta Meme (https://metameme.app). I built it for a couple of years as a side project, and recently went full time on it. It's been growing slowly over the past couple years but really started picking up last summer. I'm not going to lie, it's been really difficult. There were a lot of times when I'd just be so exhausted or worn down but kept working on it. And I thought everything would be better once I went full time, but it's also had its own unique set of challenges. Still, I am excited and grateful to be doing it and pressing on. It takes a lot of time and dedication.

A VC recently told me that most startups don't fail, it's just that the founder quits working on it. The deeper I get into my business, the more i see how that can be true.


Hi, checked the Android version Meta Meme app. One suggestion: split it into arm and x86 version for the the ffmpeg lib to reduce the apk size. Each of them is 9MB which is not a small number.


(this is hard to answer well, without knowing your background or the nature of your idea)

I'd recommend starting to develop the idea. If you are non-technical, then begin speaking to potential users and customers, and building relationships i.e. do business development.

If you are technical, it doesn't matter, do the above too. You can also take part of your time to actually begin prototyping a v1 of your product. But remember, your goal is to start a company, not a cool technical demo, so prioritize business development.

Once you have done this, congrats, you have some real momentum on your idea and have either gotten validation from real users and customers or know what needs to be changed and improved. You are now in a stronger position to start talking to people. Its much easier to attract people to your startup if you can demonstrate your idea has some traction.


If you want to attract people, you need to either pitch the idea in public (or build an MVP) to gather attention and possible partners. Or find people with similar interests and reveal the idea to them. You could also find someone through networking or [1] forums.

Show a good idea, with good leadership and people will follow...

[1] https://indiehackers.com


+1 on indiehackers being a fantastic resource for strategies and motivation once you filter out the multi-person companies. I'd also add in http://levels.io - Pieter Levels is a good steward for the 'maker' movement also https://twitter.com/levelsio


Not sure if they are connected somehow, but a website with a very similar name http://levels.fyi with FAANG salaries information makes you quistion your choices about being an indie developer


It's not realistic that the vast majority of people can expected to be hired, or move to those places, let alone achieve those salary levels. I would be amazed if even 1% of applicants actually got hired. You have 5x greater chance of being accepted at Stanford. There is a tremendous bias on HN, because those people that have, frequent here.


"Everyone thinks they’re hiring the top 1%"

https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2005/01/27/news-58/


They might not be hiring the top 1%, but they are only hiring 1% of the people who apply.


I've been doing this startup thing alone for 1.5 years now.

It's fun to learn some business skills along the way.

It's more possible than ever to build great digital products with a tiny team (or even single person).

If you have a day job, then keep your day job. Start implementing your idea on the side. Do it for at least 1 year. Startup is a marathon. There are a lot of "over night" success stories from media that seek for clicks. But in reality, you'd need to wait for many years to see traction. Do the test drive for 1 year, and see if you still enjoy it.


> There are a lot of "over night" success stories from media that seek for clicks. But in reality, you'd need to wait for many years to see traction

I actually found that quite relieving from reading all the IndieHackers interviews: Many were already at it for several years and had minimal revenue for a looong time. And only after years of consistent work they got to 5k, 10k or 50k monthly revenue.


I am far from full-flight yet (some of my side projects have made a few grand) but here are some things I've learned in addition to the advice already given:

* Only solve a problem you have experienced - this makes ideation and validation much easier (though its still essential to get unbiased opinions on your MVP)

* You'll need something to attract people initially to get feedback and validate - but don't dedicate more than 2-3 weeks of coding to your beta.

* Product Hunt allow you to post twice - once for beta and then for V1. Your initial PH post should give you more than enough test users to get good feedback. Don't bother with any other marketing or coding until you have a validated product.

* When it comes to feedback, schedule beta testers in for calls before giving them access to the product; always opt for calls over email

* Technology doesn't matter, as others have said your selling a solution, not code. Opt for whatever language or framework you will be fastest to build in.

* Once you have a validated product you're ready to sell, feel free to experiment with different marketing channels but quickly determine what the most effective for your product are (in terms of volume of leads and ROI); dump the rest and double down on these. The internet of awash with cool marketing tricks but the reality is that most companies get 80% of their leads from 1 or 2 refined, targeted actions.


Some advice after spending a couple years navigating from nothing to a team of 10:

0. Pick an area in which you have domain expertise. If you're building something you actually want to use yourself, that's even better. As a solo founder, it's even more important that you have a strong intuition for your users and for your problem space.

1. Make something people want, get people to use it, and talk to them. This comes first, and almost everything else can and should be ignored until you've done this. This is the best way to attract good people. This is also the best way to attract funding. This should be your north star. If you're struggling to find people and/or funding, goto #1.

2. You have advantages, too: as a solo founder, you should be able to move faster than anyone else - even companies with cofounders or entire teams - in the early stages. When you talk to people and they make suggestions, you can and should literally immediately make them, deploy them, and tell them that you did so. This may feel strange once it starts to feel like you're a glorified CS rep, but this is actually the iteration loop that you want to be in. You can do this faster than anyone else because you have zero communication overhead and zero friction between the point at which feedback is received and the point at which improvements are shipped. When you find yourself in this state, bask in it for as long as possible.

3. Give your early people a lot of equity and make sure they feel like they own the company too.

The good thing is that it's been more straightforward than I expected (though certainly not easier than I expected).


I'm creating an open source todo list + calendar webapp (https://getartemis.app, source at https://github.com/satvikpendem/artemis) made by just me, and I can tell you how I approached solo development.

I sell first before coding anything.

The video you see on the front page does not exist in code, it is simply a prototype designed with Figma (https://figma.com) and animated with Principle (https://principleformac.com). I created the landing page and video, added a Mailchimp form, and I posted on Twitter, Reddit, and here on Hacker News, the communities in which it made sense. For me, it's a productivity / task management tool, so I would post on reddit.com/r/getdisciplined or reddit.com/r/productivity.

It's all about creating a minimum viable product, as you might well be aware, but what you may not know is that an MVP need not have code. Indeed, it could be a video as I did, and I think for software, a video works best as people can actually see what it looks and feels like, without you necessarily creating the product architecture (full frontend and backend plus devops etc). Now I have over 150 subscribers in only a month due to rapid creation of this type of MVP, and based on this feedback, I changed my designs, and only now I am beginning to really create the heart of the product.

Using non-code MVPs is the best way in my opinion to sell quickly before building.


Two years into my first solo startup here. Lots of good advice here already, but the things that worked best for me:

* Build what you're interested in, and use the product yourself. If you're not personally using the product, the loneliness of a solo op can quickly translate into "why am I doing this at all?"

* Don't be afraid to admit what you don't know, AND don't be afraid to spend extra hiring professionals (or freelancers) to do those things. Consultants work the best, in my experience: hire them to build out some kind of framework that lets you do what you need to do without them, and then bring them back as needed to do more advanced things you can't do.

* Automate everything you can. People say startups should do things that don't scale, and that works when you've got the resources to throw at things. However, if it's just you then time is often your most valuable resource (moreso than money, in many cases): automate everything you can that takes up more than 30-60 minutes of your day so you can focus on more important things. This also ties into point 2: automate out the drone work so you also stay interested in what you're working in and don't succumb to a brick wall of "why am I even doing this?".

* As a solo founder, you need to be self-driven and self-accountable. You need to keep working and Get Shit Done even when nobody is asking you whether something's done or not. Don't be afraid to take breaks or time off when you need to recharge, but don't fall into a habit of "nobody's asking for this; I'll get to it later".

* Lastly, it can be tempting to vastly expand your work hours (especially if you're feeling pressured to get something done or feeling overwhelmed), probably more so than if you had a cofounder even (IMO it's a lot easier to suffer through long hours yourself than to command someone else do so also). There's nothing wrong with a 60 hour workweek, but you also should never feel like it's necessary. Sometimes I cut myself off at 8 hours in a day even if I'm on a roll and feeling motivated; that motivation often builds up and translates into another strong day tomorrow. You might also get a ton done in a single day by working into the night, but it's easy to translate that into sleeping in tomorrow because you got so much done and having a much slower day in general. Find what works best for you, and don't let yourself get burned out.


ideas have no values, implementation does

the very same idea could be implemented in different ways, some would work, some other would fail

the only way to be sure is to build it and ship it, eg. "does my implementation provide value to customers or not?"

it does not have to be big, it does not have to be perfect, it does not have to be complete (avoid the features creep), but the implementation itself or the product is what determine the value or potential value

other people like co-founder, talents, etc. are basically people who will see the value but think "hey I can build that better", "I can sell that better", etc. and decide to join you in the process

so yeah pretty much "Start building and start selling"

for the founding part it will be either you have the skills (tech, marketing, whatever) and so invest your time, or miss some of those skills and use your own money to cover those parts

I do not believe you can rely solely on "strong ideas"


> ideas have no values

Fully fleshed and well-justified ideas worth hell of a lot.


No they’re not. You can’t even patent or copyright business ideas. The only justification for a business idea is a customer, so GP is correct: no business has value without sales.


Properly explored idea is basically a business plan backed by a market research. Clearly as worthless as a random morning coffee brainfart.


It seems like you're being sarcastic, but you're exactly right.

Investors don't give people money for plans and research because they don't mean anything. It's easy to make a plan or find a hypothetical market.

The only people who get money without customers are founders with huge exits on their resume already.


All three of your statements are wrong.

Especially the last one.


Then give us your best ideas.


That's my point. I don't have any "good" ideas because they're meaningless without the ability to execute. I know my limits, and I know that I can't tell if my ideas are good without intimately knowing the intended market.

There are certainly things that I suspect there would be a huge market for. That, I suppose, is my "good ideas" list (or, because I'm not an oracle, my "wish list").


An incredible execution with no good idea is also pretty meaningless, so clearly having a good idea must be some sort of force multiplier and thus have value.


it is exactly the opposite imho

the idea can already be there, already implemented and even already successful

and an incredible execution can just take over

you don't take over on ideas, you do take over on implementation

few examples: hotmail and then boom gmail took over, IE6 and boom Firefox took over, etc.

in fact implementation is so much more important that you have to keep doing it right otherwise someone else take over

also you can not keep an idea secret forever, once you release your product, everyone know about it and get a shot at their own implementation of your idea


I know a lot of people who laughed at the following ideas because they're so "bad": Uber, Twitter, Bird/Lime, and Instagram.


That is certainly possible. However, the trick here is hidden in your saying the idea is "fully fleshed." Our temptation often is to fully flesh ideas either in our own imagination, with our friends, or with internet research. If instead you actually flesh out ideas by speaking to customers, building prototypes and testing them, gathering real user data, and even actual sales data, then definitely yes that idea could be worth a ton. But if this idea is fully fleshed out like in a research paper where you've spent 24 hours in a library, then your case is much harder to make.


> Fully fleshed and well-justified ideas worth hell of a lot.

"Fully fleshed and well-justified ideas" are worth 100% of $0.

Execution is everything. How you implement and execute the idea is what sets you apart.


listening to an idea is entertainment

showing the idea is proof


Lots of conflicting advice here. There are a lot of factors that would or could cause you to do one thing versus another: how much capital reserves do you have, have you tested a market yet, what is the market, what are you looking for in a cofounder, how long will the product take to develop if it isn’t developed already, etc etc.

Here’s my (short) story. I’m a single founder in mid development, and this is a side hustle. I expect to deliver by the end of this quarter, working in my spare time. The product is solving a problem that I have. I am footing everything, and am not even entertaining the idea of bringing anyone else (cofounder or otherwise) on board until the product is complete and works the way that I want it to. Then once it’s marketed and gets traction, then and only then would I look for help.

But that’s just me and that’s the point: do what’s best for you.


Check out Rob Walling. He's got some podcasts and grown to some conferences now, but i keep going back to his book: Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup

Edit: just looked it up but see also Rob's new project TinySeed.com: The First Startup Accelerator Designed for Bootstrappers.


You mentioned attracting co-founders so just adding one important piece of advice: don't be stingy about equity with your co-founders. Even if you were the one who came up with "the idea," or worked on it alone for a few months.

When your company is actually worth something down the road, you will both be wealthy enough, however, in the early stage, when your company is worth close to zero, one of the highest risks is the founder relationship/compatibility. When all partners have equal ownership, there is a much lower chance of having passive-aggressive power struggles, and grudges.

A toxic, deteriorating co-founder relationship will almost surely kill your company too early, whereas being generous early will be something your co-founders will never forget and it will pay back multifold overall.


There's not really a lot to go on here. Are you from a sales background? Management? Development?

Or do you have an amazing idea for a YouTube / Facebook hybrid and want to give me 5% equity in exchange for working on it for free for the next 6 months?

If I had a penny for every time I'd heard that amazing offer...


True! There is a lot missing. Is this just a side-project, never more than a few hundred bucks a month or is the plan that you want/expect it to take off and then you can hir emore people?

YCombinator will not take on companies with one founder because the non-direct workload is significant in most cases and few people would have the energy to keep going through all the set backs. Even if you can, you are unlikely to go fast enough to make the most of your product before the competition starts taking your customers.

Of course there are exceptions and small projects that just work but unfortunately, you have to take some serious risks to give your company the best chance of success so trying to hold on to a "day job", for example is a distraction from your new company.

Best advice is probably to find some local entrepreneurs and get their advice. Paul Graham writes about stuff but although he has a lot of experience, it doesn't necessarily mean his advice is 100% reliable or accurate - which also doesn't mean that you should ignore it!


It doesn't matter if you have a strong idea if no-one is willing to pay for it. Get some sales commitments first, even some "soft" commitments will go a long way. Will you even be able to build the company at the rates people are willing to pay?


Good advice. I met a guy who was selling screenshots of a product to ensure it did what people expected. He then got a team and built it and recently sold his company for some good dollars so this isn't as weird advice as it sounds!

Also be careful about using a single customer to "co-design" your product since it can affect appeal to other customers.


Yeah a single customer is dangerous, you're more like a consultancy if that continues for too long.


(Solo founder, one-man shop, 12+ years in, Mentor)

There's a lot of great advice already so I'll just add: Create a bi-weekly, private email newsletter. Your biggest fear should be getting too heads down and building the wrong product or somehow losing the plot.

Create a newsletter for friends, family, developer peers, teachers, and anyone else you can think of.

Every two weeks you should outline what you accomplished in the last two weeks, what you're working on in the next two weeks and the plan for the next six weeks. The simple act of broadcasting the newsletter will help keep you accountable and focused. Good luck!


From my experience, there's a massive intangible difference between a co-founder and an early stage employee. Get as far as you can without using equity, so that when you do use equity, you have a clearer sense of what you will get from it. When you want other big-picture decision makers, get co-founders. When you want x, y, and z mostly outcomes, hire employees. If you can't afford employees, could you get further and raise funds first? I've had amazing high equity employees and not so amazing ones. But with a small group of pseudo co-founders, things like firing, raises, pivots, etc. naturally become more political than they might otherwise.

It's cliche but think of this as dating except you just adopted a kid. When you start going steady with someone, it's critical to have a boundary between yourself as a parent and the other person as a (perhaps-temporary) parental figure. If one day you find someone who would raise your child even better than you could by yourself, or at least would make you happy and you trust fully in their judgment and values (even if not 100% same as yours), you get married. But you can still raise a great kid as a single parent.


It's not magic. In the past I thought I need to be really innovative, have my own product, be rich, be a business man from top to bottom, have cofounders etc. etc.

I was going straight from software freelancing to founding my own company (also switched countries to Cyprus) and created a Limited all on my own. Still working for clients and I have this legal person (Limited) now acting as a shell for me on a legal side but beside that: nothing changed.

Cofounders are like a marriage... you should be 101% sure about them ;)


Cofounders are indeed critical to success. Don't feel tempted to compromise just because you are in a hurry (same as marriage!).

Also, you should plan for bad outcomes like a founder who doesn't fit in, can't fit in, etc. and ensure you haven't signed away a load of equity, which will make you want to keep them on board! Take legal advice on a good balance between attracting good talent and not risking the company equity in the process.


Simply put, if you are starting off alone, you need more money. I can think of two women I've worked with who were outstanding project managers, and who could step up to the role of COO. Neither of them have enough spare cash to endure the craziness of founding a startup, but both of them could play the role of June Martino, if I could pay them, and that is basically what you need if you are a solo founder. I would look to hire someone like that right away.


I'm a solo founder (pullreminders.com) and have been at it for about a year and a half. There are definitely a lot of highs and lows but overall I enjoy the way my work feels very personal and autonomous.

I love this quote by Derek Sivers:

> Nobody gives a novelist shit for writing alone. But an entrepreneur, programmer, or musician is expected to collaborate. I disagree, for me. I prefer the life of a novelist, whether I’m writing code, music, or systems.


I've written a bit about this in regards to browserless.io: https://docs.browserless.io/blog/2018/08/01/running-an-indie... if you're curious. But in short:

1. Build something that you're an expert on, and know how to build it. You can't do it all, but knowing how to do most of it goes a long ways. Hire out for the rest.

2. Be intimately aware of what the product should be from the users standpoint. What does it do that no one else's does?

3. Prepare yourself for supporting the business and support issues. You can't "back out" or dodge anything, and you've got to be ready to be in the hot seat alongside your uses. I've been told a "volunteer" type mentality is what this is called.

4. Be emotionally ready for an absolute roller coaster. One day you can be on HN, and that same day you'll lose your #2 account. It, by all means, is an absolute emotional washing machine. Try and distance yourself from the product if you can.

5. If your boot-strapping yourself then your limitation/runway can be time. Time does have a value aspect to it, and if you're an engineer you can grossly underestimate how long something will take to build which it's effectively money lost.

There's so much that goes into it, and every business is so different that it's hard to capture what to do. You really have to _just do it_ because getting started and out is the hardest part. Everything else seems to fall into place after, assuming you don't close it or abandon it.

Good luck!


Since you got a lot of good advice already, I would like to add following.

Hire or make deals with, people who can speed things up, developers, designers, sales people. You can't do everything by yourself. Find people you can talk to, that is super important.

Often people trick themselves into building elaborate product first, but also there is a case where you genuinely have to make something before you can sell it.


900 hours. That's my rule. It takes 900 hours of concentrated effort in brainstorming, building, tweaking, disillusionment, trashing it all, starting over, brainstorming some more, building, tweaking, demoing, networking and THEN selling before you'll even have the faintest idea as whether this can be a viable company. Put in the time and you'll see.


Fred Brooks (author of The Mythical Man Month -- highly recommended -- and the director of IBM's System/360 project) said, "Build one you're going to throw away because you're going to throw it away anyway."


Have you formed some viable companies after 900 hours?


Yes, three. One was a total failure. One went public a few years after i left and the last one was a private sale by me to a Fortune 500 company. I'm not saying my rule of thumb is for everyone, but 900 hours is about the length of an average internship. When I'm evaluating a new idea or opportunity, I try to imagine what I would need to accomplish in 900 hours to make it into a viable company==> Sort of a reversal of Parkinson's Law about how work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. This helps me really clarify and plan out exactly what i have to do, so i don't waste time later or get side tracked. IMHO, 900 hours of grinding it out will give you the insight you need to see if you were really onto something or need to pack it in and try something else.


arbitrary number + that's what, a couple months? That's nothing.


Some one else mentioned 9 months above. I am amazed at these "10,000 hours" type of rules for doing a project or startup.


I am 20 and moving to SF in a month . To help people be more productive I am building a self management software tool for startup employees, something you can use alone or in group with goals, feedback, and psychometric stuff.

I am 4 month into code and still need 2-3 more months to make something I can sell (at like 5$/user/month) or get free users.

Originally I am from France so I only have a 3 months window once in the US to take of and raise seeds to get my visa (otherwise I can maybe get married or I am screwed and come back crying at my mother's).

Do you have any advice ? Things I should do ? People I should talk to ? Startegies I should use ?


First, don't. Actually, its good you ask about attracting co-founders and talent, that's a critical part of success. You're going to want a strong, like-minded cofounder and strong team to help you succeed. The journey is more fun and will likely be more successful with he right team...So, how? Network.....


Of course what you're describing is the ideal, but I think the odds of finding a good co-founder (particularly via "networking") is vanishingly small. In fact I bet that the odds of finding a good co-founder is smaller than the odds of successfully starting a business as a solo founder.

So I'd say yes, do it, but simultaneously be on the lookout for a potential co-founder. If one arises, great. If not, don't let it be an excuse not to follow you dream.


+1

Partnerships consisting of staying on the same page for multiple years, in one's 20s, is harder than marriage. People, priorities and capabilities change too much.

On the other hand having someone join a vision already in progress can help with keeping alignment.


Fair enough


> First, don't.

No one got anywhere by doing nothing. I would think its better to try and fail.


But lots of people got nowhere from doing the WRONG thing. Focusing on finding a cofounder instead of on furthering the product could definitely be one of those mistakes.


The ultimate question of business is about deciding between alternatives and asking which is best for the company:

1) If I carry on with the product, can I keep quality and speed to improve sales significantly or will I quickly hit a wall which will cause my customers to leave? 2) If I find a good founder instead, will they help me with stuff I am not good at and give me the space to keep quality and speed or is it a distraction?


Speaking as a sole founder with many friends that go their path alone as well, this is not anywhere close to a requirement. There are people for whom this journey is natural and they are more suited, and others for whom they'd prefer or need to be with someone else.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution for founders. Co-founders come with their own set of issues--whether you're on the same page about the company's goals, whether your skill sets are complementary or not, what kind of long term commitment you both have to the problem space, etc.


starting building on the idea yourself so you have more to talk about / show.

co-founders are usually people you already know. so talk to them and start persuading or start meeting more people.

employees are attracted to salaries, offer it (get funding if needed).

if you have no idea what's involved in working on a startup, maybe watch the startup school videos.



It is very hard to honestly evaluate your own idea, because it's, well, your idea. You get to tell about it to someone. And when you tell and ask for feedback and help - voila, you are not a pure solo founder anymore.


Not sure I agree. Most revolutionary ideas are unappealing when first presented. The world thought Walt Disney was crazy for making a feature cartoon (Snow White) that went on to be one of the most profitable movies in history. Even after that, they thought he was nuts for starting a theme park.

Henry Ford once quipped, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, 'A faster horse.'"


If you throw 1000 random ideas against the wall, 10 of them could stick, 2 or 3 of which would be solo founded. Look, solo founding works, right?


Really? You think those guys got where they were by throwing out random ideas? The point is that with the right skills and chutzpah, solo founders can make it.


There are two parts to having a good idea. One is the idea itself, but it's also critical that you have expertise in the domain. My company helps freelance writers and photographers get paid. The CEO was a publisher who had this problem and decided to solve it. He reached out in his circle for a programmer to build it, and he found me. The idea was good enough for me to put time into it, and we had a clear path forward for turning it into a business. My point is that if you have domain knowledge and a genuinely good idea, you'll have no trouble finding co-founders.


Sorry to hijack someone other's question. I have a question of my own.

I co-founded a company with one of my family friend around last year and made the silly mistake of trusting blindly by not signing a partnership agreement. I completed the whole development of the project and there has been inflow of cash but since then there has been radio silence from their part.

So i have registered my own company and ready to deploy the same service of my own.

Since i know the product will sell, i know i can develop a better product than the existing but i lack knowledge of business side of things.

Any advice for me ?


Get a lawyer and get a contract ASAP. This gets harder every single day that passes.

Also IANAL but if you wrote it all with no agreement you probably have the rights to all the code you developed, unless you biz partner's last name is Winklevoss.


I even thought of that idea, but this mean getting my parents involved which i don't want to. I have zero idea how laws and business work.

I have nonissue with code , because i have all of it. And i am thinking about deploying them as my own business.


I just want to do this project that i dreamed about.


Pay off the family friend, and have them sign a full release. Otherwise, you run the risk of investing huge amounts of effort and time into the business, and then finally,when it is successful, he comes out of the woodwork and asks for 50% of it.


go talk to a lawyer so you don't get sued. how can you prove YOU didn't take the money and run?


The bank account is in his name and the payment gateway is attached to it. It is clearly visible how much money is coming and to whom.


I can’t provide a good answer to your question, but as a failed solo founder my talk on my experience may interest you: https://youtu.be/huOzokY_fME

In particular in the Q&A I talk about some things I would have done differently. But one of those things was that I would not be a solo founder again - I just don’t have all the skills necessary to both do the product and the business side.


It seemed that Hell had a better chance at freezing over before I could cold-network a viable relationship with a prospective technical co-founder worth his/her salt, so rather than give up I chose to work towards my goal as best I could on my own. Many years have past since. It's been a humbling, very long journey.

I would love to personally connect with technical solo founders who can relate.


I had a similar situation, I had a partner at the beginning but since that failed dramatically I had to dive into the deep end on my own. Running a business is just as much work (or more work in some ways) as building the tech for the business.

I did Startup School this past fall, and it was very helpful to get in contact with other people in startup mode. And I just got an email the other day notifying me that Tiny Seed (https://tinyseed.com/) is opening up for applications in 10 days.

The premise I liked about Tiny Seed is similar to how YC does things, group the businesses together. I think it may at least be another avenue for connecting with other startup founders.


If your idea is in software, write a plan and write specs. Then put together a budget and hire someone to build it. Set a threshold for failure and one for further investment. Don't put the cart before the horse, write planning docs and budgets. Draw sketches. Do all the brain dump work and commit to a hard scope, out everything else in the back log. Good luck!


If you know how to program, don't force the cofounder thing. It's really easy to end up bringing on shitty cofounders. Look at Facebook and SnapChat. In my experience it's typical to end up bringing on an Eduardo, a Winklevoss twin, or a Reggie Brown, then you have to get rid of them because they suck and literally aren't capable of contributing anything.


Eduardo was cool, dude. I saw it in a movie! :D


A strong idea hasn't been enough since ca. 1999. Build a prototype or a plausible team & plan with your own money/time first.


Are there really any single founders? In most successful single founder companies, there are few people who effectively does cofounder like stuff. In this case initial recruits would just not have the cofounder title, but the same work. Also initial recruits will stick around and will give their best only if they have enough incentive, which is equity(a cofounder thing)


Thomas Edison was a solo founder. So was Edwin Land (Polaroid). You could make the case that Thomas Watson Sr. (IBM) was also a solo founder, and they all did just fine. :-)


Equity isn't the only incentive.


Stop thinking about your idea as being good or bad. Start with customers. What will they pay for right now?

Ideas don’t have value without the ability to execute. If all you can offer is an idea (no money, no sales pipeline, no engineering) then you shouldn’t start a company. No worthwhile cofounder would work with you.


The mechanics aren't the hard part, I don't think. Managing emotions and being energetic are. If I were trying to start a company on my own I'd make sure I had a hobby that involved interactions with other people, and then try to find people to talk to about company building stuff.


Don't. You can. But you can also run full speed into the side of a building.

One will get the lesson faster than the other... and it isn't the one where you spend 6 to 12 months lying to yourself and everyone around you about how you are figuring it out before realizing that you actually aren't a super genius and you actually can't do everything by yourself and you NEED other people.

Why because of what I tell literally every person that asks me about doing this now... At the end of the day even if you were a super genius at everything it takes to make a business be successful... you will run out of time in the day to do everything.

You HAVE to be able to bring other awesome people on to help you or you will burn out and fail.

If its not painfully obvious by now I am speaking from experience.

I tried I failed. That doesn't mean that you will but I just can't recommend anyone try to do this kind of thing by themselves.

I tell people now I feel like the first true test of your business is convincing other people to help your work on it... if you can't convince even 1 other person to help you... do you really even have anything?


there are many strong ideas out there yet people lack the courage to do them or lack someone to help them. That is natural what you are in, i've had the same feeling when I got the idea to help people listen to podcasts from blog articles (websitevoice.com) as I am a developer myself it has not been difficult for me to get help from good people who loved the idea. So my first thing to do is probably talk about your idea to people who you think they can listen to you and sharing is caring. I've been contacted from people here in HN about if my new business needs support for design, marketing, the beginning is difficult. Never give up a great idea you have, because if you do not do it someone else will later do it!


It really depends on your niche, your product and the amount of work you need to keep the entire startup going? As a rule of thumb, you just want a functional MVP that sells, which is your first milestone. After that, it’s open waters.


Off topic, but what to do if your cofounder is not doing anything and contributed financially but stopped there? Worse if the service has not taken off yet. Feel really demotivated right now while cofounder seems to have checked out.


options: 1. start over and don't work with the current cofounder. 2. keep going with current product, structure co-founders financial contribution as an investment (use a SAFE or something) and remove the person from day to day operations in the company.


Single founder here as well with an enterprise startup. The path is definitely quite different but the principles are the same: sell your vision to everyone - customers, co-founders, employees, investors.


Two paths. 1) start selling to and building for customers. 2) start recruiting cofounder(s) then fundraise. Which one is better depends on the nature of your startup and skill set.



start with the smallest workable version of your idea. if your technical build the coolest prototype of your product you can.


connect to a friends or team who decent at marketing. so you can focusing the energy to build the product. while friends spend their energy to supply the market demand. mutualism simbiotic.

we have done this for two years since 2016. our product has installed in 12 hospital accross the country.


Your Co-Founder is most likely somebody you already know. Make a list... approach them.


I am in the same situation as you and while I don't have success yet (I just started three months ago), I have made many mistakes and have learned a lot. Here are a few tips:

- As an engineer, I got into a building frenzy in the beginning, and equated product building to building a successful venture. They turn out to be quite different in practice.

- Start getting interested users to sign up as soon as you can. Create a landing page, create a clear sincere description of the benefits (not just features), run it by as many people you can, and have a email signup so you can do that while you are building it. I have one at https://stockquanta.com and it has been quite successful in getting sign ups. I am still a month away from an MVP.

- Read up on marketing, validation and distribution. It's difficult to manage so many things on your own but it's still good to understand a lot of the essentials. I read this book and found it insightful: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FF51F8Y/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?...

- I initially thought that I will build first and then show it to everyone. That's a mistake. Try to talk to people early on about your idea and even better show them something working. You want to see how they react and if they truly get it. I have pivoted so many times based on how people respond. You want criticism and the honest truth.

- As a solo founder, the resources are limited. People have limited time. Something my GF mentioned that I have taken to heart is that try to maximize the user effort/user reward ratio. Think of Google...a few seconds of input gives amazing value. Can you shape your product such that you maximize this ratio? Can they benefit from your product within 30 seconds or 1 minute of landing on your page? This may not be possible for every thing, but it will force you to think of different ways your value prop can be presented. In my early experience, nothing sells better than a product that actually delivers true value in a short time frame.

- Have Plan B, Plan C, ... etc. Know that your initial proposed idea or execution might fail. Have an idea of how you will pivot next. You could pivot within the same conceptual domain, or have an entire new domain ready to work on. If you are relying on one thing only to succeed, that's a very brittle setup. The first product or service is mostly to optimize learning for the long haul. Learn everything you can about various things within and outside product. If you end up succeeding with the first attempt, that's an added bonus :)

- Read a few business books that relate to the lean startup, product validation, common mistakes early on. Learn from others' mistakes as much as you can so you reduce the likelihood of repeating them.

- Know that you will make many mistakes and there will be many dead ends. Don't compare your chaotic efforts with seemingly smooth success of others. It's never really that way. Make sure you are learning at every step, able to step back, look at the big picture and move on. Comparing your chaos to others' success can be very disheartening and unfair so be aware of that.

- Lastly, don't be that person who spends 2 years building and then emerging from a den. I know many folks who have done that and results are not pretty.


Hello NNS.

Some questions first:

1. What do you mean by strong idea? Why is it strong? I am not knocking you on this. I myself do not share the disdain for ideas when compared to execution. We know it's down to the execution, but give me a great idea any day of the week.

2. What is your domain experience in regards to the idea? Are they in the same domain?

If I can answer the second part of your question first: "...attracting co-founders and talent to work with you." Before I go into the main body of my reply, if by co-founders you mean a programmer, then my advice is don't go down the path of something like:

"I have done the hard part, you push your paying jobs aside, sort out the code and prepare yourself for the type of riches only those standing on checkered floors are accustomed to. 5% of the business sound about right?"

You may not even need a programmer off-the-bat anyway. The tech isn't the solution. The tech is a scalable efficient conduit for the solution. Customers couldn't care less if their woes were alleviated and goals were attained via tech or a rubber band.

Anyway, how to attract:

You know the cliche sales question "Sell me this pen?". How can you sell the pen to someone who doesn't give a stationary? You can't, and you don't, because you don't know what need they have for the pen, what it brings into their life, etc, etc, the value of the pen to them. Same thing with attracting co-founders. If you attempt to attract them straight away, with nothing tangible to show, then you have one main option:

1. You need to find out what they think, what they feel, where they are coming from, where they currently are, where they might be heading to; in regards to your strong idea. If there is resonance, if they are on a path that suggests the journey could be shared, for they for a period of time are heading in similar directions, then there is a chance. However this chance is small unless you can show various qualities they are looking for. Honestly I don't even know the qualities really, maybe a few at best: hunger, tenacity, vision, self-belief (a stop before it goes into self-delusion), point to prove (to themselves), etc. I just summarise it by saying, they want to see if this person is just a talker or a doer. Have you got it within you to stay the course? Are you going to jump ship at the first sight of an iceberg or are you going to stand your ground and pull out your violin as the iceberg approaches?

Some people look for passion. I don't. If that works for them, fair play, who am I to say otherwise? However for me, passion? Nah. I leave passion for the Don Juan's, the Cassanovas and the Lotharios, for I have seen the passion in the divorced couples, in the broken hearts, and the jilted lovers. You'll need to find what fuels you, and make sure you to show it to others, not just in words but with deeds as well. None of this rubbish fake it till you make it, then the following week you're sat there with Impostor Syndrome. You be by doing, and do by being.

Anyway, as you work on your idea, moving it away from just in your head into something others can evaluate, you will increase your chances of attracting co-founders et al. I personally wouldn't bother with attracting anyone. Just get your head down and work on your self, and thus your idea. As this process occurs and you obtain targeted feedback, and let relevant entities know of it, you will start to attract people. But it needs to be targeted feedback. Just as you don't ask your mum as described in The Mom Test, because you she loves everything you do; you don't ask your dad either cos it's just not good enough, it won't work, etc, etc. No point asking anybody too close to you, bar a select few who don't let feelings come in the way. No point asking anybody other than assumed target audience, and even then pinch of salt, and a mixture of early adopters, laggards, etc, etc.

As for the first part of your question go about "founding your startup". I think you need to be wary of Survivorship Bias, Confirmation Bias, etc. Stay away from the "I went to bed, woke up, boom, overnight success-ed it" brigade. I have my own biases. I am filtering reality to verify my perception and my place within it. I read some of the other comments, informative and insightful. Sell or build first depends on many factors: to who, what, where, when, how, etc. I looked into this for quite a while, too long to say Lean with a straight face really, and I kept coming back to my own bias, am I deluded, am I lying to myself and do I not even know it, how little do I know, etc, etc.

Based on that, and the riskiest assumption out of the lot being do I really know, I have to say that you start by looking at the problem. My primary domain experience is in marketing, and the first thing I always do is audit the whole shebang. You have to find out where you do really stand, what do you really know, who else is standing in this space, what are they saying, etc, etc, in order to then plot a course to where you want to be.

Forget solution, tech, marketing, forget customer discovery as well. The first thing you need to do is be equipped with knowledge to not only stand on slightly firmer ground, but also when customer discovery does take place, which it needs to very early on, is be able to sort the wheat from the chaff, otherwise you are not really in a position to ascertain the value and the validity of the information obtained. You see it quite a bit in customer discovery classes, people getting out of the building with no reason nor rhyme as to who they actually interview. They interview every Tom, Dick and Sally, with no regards to if their opinion is even relevant, let alone valuable. Now there is a danger here in that, you don't want to be biased in that you seek to verify your research, but then it comes down to if you want to 'prove' you are right, or if you want the truth.

In the customer discovery you seek to not only ascertain if the problem is validated, but which target audience seems the most viable to go with first. I prefer not to go in hard on one segment, unless I have a strong thought/feeling that this is the segment afflicted with the problem. It depends really, on how much knowledge and insight you have, there are no real set in stone rules, just don't tick boxes for the sake of it, nor ignore a box solely on the basis of your own 'knowledge'.

When it comes to actual problem evaluation, look at root causes, factors, pain points, scenarios, etc, as well as noting the language used for usage down the line in various things. Use qual and quant methods as well as probing from multiple angles, looking for consistency and coherence (or inconsistency and contradictory), when it comes to problem severity, frequency, emotional response, etc.

After customer discovery, I'd say take a quick look at the market landscape, not too heavy, for you can end up being influenced by what others are doing, and who knows, your approach, your idea, etc, may well go far beyond what others are doing. Stay in contact with those you interview, certainly the ones who display certain early adopter traits, but you also need some laggards, and some that resonate with the vision (the end goal), for problem is just a roadblock from A to B.

I'll skip some of the other things I would mention here, message is too long. So:

Ascertaining market demand: all for it, but not some lame landing page 3 lines and a sign-up box, that shows a lack of insight, lack of understanding, lack of resonance, et al.

Building MVP: minimum is not in a bubble, look at the market, the competition, the audience expectations, minimum is fluid and ever increasing in some areas. You are below minimum if you can't hold your own against the competition on one front at least.

As you can tell from the other replies to your question, there are no absolute truths, so whatever your journey is, I wish you luck.

Cheers, Ace.


Find a cofounder.

I shelved ideas until I had a cofounder.

I shelved other ideas until I had a cofounder and capital.

Other ideas I built myself.

I’ve met like minded people that also had the right risk profile typically at mixers and tech meetups on topics that I liked. Never for the explicit purpose of meeting a cofounder. Just people that happened to be in the same fireside chat as me that contributed good conversation. Its all luck but you can improve the odds.




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