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Ask HN: Pros and Cons of Solo vs. Cofounder?
22 points by 0des 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 27 comments
Asking for a friend.





I've done both.

Solo Pros: less communication overhead, rapid decision making, unified direction, do things your way, full ownership

Solo Cons: lack of mental support, heavy burden, all falls on you, context-switching between tasks (e.g., building v. talking to users), in tough times you must find your own support network, less manpower

Cofounder Pros: divvy up roles, combine diverse skillsets, mental support, camaraderie, make use of strengths of multiple people, investors like teams, can boost each other up in tough times, bouncing ideas off each other and brainstorming can lead to breakthroughs

Cofounder Cons: potential for disputes and conflict, compromise can worsen results, must agree and unite, easy to end up with a bad cofounder, must continue to nurture relationship

Common saying: "go fast alone, go farther together"

You can also start solo and bring on cofounders once you feel you need it.


As a solo founder so far, I approve this message.

.. all by yourself

> You can also start solo and bring on cofounders once you feel you need it.

Thanks for the reply. How do you know when it is time to do this?


Currently building a binocular company. Was able to get the product / design / marketing / ecomm going solo, brought on partner once the product market fit was proven to help with fin / ops. That made more sense than to start at the beginning, as the fin / ops was not much for the first few years (intense product / marketing tho).

How did you split your shares? Equal part?

Not OP, but if it's a full-on growth startup, one advice from a YC video is 50/50. Because the majority of the company building is still ahead of you (think 10 year timeline). And you want a true cofounder to have full skin in the game. This varies on the situation of course.

Make sense. Thanks.

I can't really say since I never reached that stage, but I imagine you'll know for yourself if that time comes (e.g., need more skillsets, can't keep up with demand, growing too fast you can't handle it alone, burning yourself out, finding a natural fit).

> Common saying: "go fast alone, go farther together"

Great advice.


Company #2: Brought on two business partners after being in business for three years solo. Sold them my interest. Returned a couple of years later as their VP Eng. but the spark had gone and they had become, in my mind, risk averse.

Company #3: Did okay, sold it off as I knew it wouldn't grow.

Company #4: Co-founder. Did pretty well. Sold my interest to my two partners.

Company #6: Engineer #2 - cheated out of $2M in shares when the company was acquired.

Company #7: Co-founder/Engineer #1 - cheated out of it when it took off like a rocket after eight months and they decided they didn't need any more US engineering and could outsource software development for $8/hr on that newfangled Craigslist. Acquired a year later by BigCorp.

Company #11: Solo founder - could never get the two people I had as early employees that I was grooming for becoming partners to stop fighting each other or me. Company lasted 7 years. Didn't survive the 2008 economic downturn.

Company #13: Engineer #1/CTO - acquihired after 16 months but I was about ready to walk due to the CEO turning in to a raging arsehole the moment that big money started flowing in.

Company #14: Co-founder/CTO - got in to bed with the wrong co-founder/CEO - my mistake, should have vetted him more. I explain that we euphemistically "ran out of runway" but in reality I took his sticky fingers out of my pocket. Also, I didn't like being referred to as "you're just a programmer."

Company #15: Solo founder - did well, but was burning out and wrapped it up to concentrate on #16 at the request of my business partners.

Company #16: Did great - acquired by Big Corp against my will due to my two business partners (brought on after we were doing well) decided on a "hostile takeover" whereby we'd sell and they'd make money or they would drive the company to bankruptcy. Therapist says I have PTSD and should consider a different career or avoid co-founders/business partners in the future.

Company #20: Engineering hire #2 - so far so good. Three months in. No arseholes so far.

Company #21: ?


> "you're just a programmer."

This resonates with me. I can take an idea, build it and go to market, but I often get rebranded as a web developer.


interesting read. I feel like you need to consult good lawyers more often.

Asking someone to be your cofounder is a big commitment that not many people can fulfill.

Consider an alternative: do you lack some expertise that you need right now?

If so, can you hire them part time to support you. It much easier to get someone to say yes without them quitting their job. You pay them in cash or equity.

If equity, it will definitely be less than cofounder shares since they understand it's not a commitment and they can quit anytime.

I call this 0.5 cofounder. Its not 1 (solo) or 2 (cofounder): somewhere in the middle.


I did cofund some years ago with 3 people and now I go solo at https://planningpokeronline.com/ (a scrum planning poker tool with $10k MRR)

These are the main advantages I found in go going solo (for my specific case):

- Less costs, this is critical at the beggining, paying 4 salaries with the early income is not the same than paying 1.

- Faster developing. If you combine several skills, the discussions are only in your mind (from your CTO mind to your CMO mind, passing throug your CEO mind,etc.) , you don't need to arrange meetings to talk between your different minds.

- More freedom. You can work when you want, and have days off when you want. You don't need to coordinate with anyone. Maybe with your life partner but thats anotther story :)

- You learn even more. IF you cofund you may tend to don't pay attention to the things that don't fall in your domain. When going solo you learn about everything: taxes, invoices, developemnt, design, marketing, etc.

For me the cons of going solo is that you lack expertise in other fields that a cofunder could fill.

My personal suggestion to everyone starting a startup is to identify the main pilars of the business and then find a founder for each pilar.

For example, for an online food store, the pilars would be 2: Digital (marketing and site development) and Food logistics (buy, store and sell food). Then, the founders could be: an expirienced CTO, and an expirienced Chief from food industry.

In my case, the scrum's "Planning Poker Online" app, there is only one pilar: Digital. As the app is a 100% automated SASS and the users are Digital people like me.

I hope this helps someone, :)


My question would be how you could add more products for the same target audience. Can you send me a dm on linkedin? Ronald.

It's very simple: Every product needs two types of people - those who can make it and those who can sell it. Unless you are one of the lucky ones who can do both equally well, you need a minimum of one of each.

Cofounders either pull you forward or drag you back. I've had only one co-founder pull me forward, the rest were mostly drag.

YC used to look for "animals" in their application. You're tapping into their primal side. It's like sports, where you just through pass the ball in front of you and your teammate can anticipate it. It's like a band where you play a beat on the drums and the guitarist just puts a riff on it.

The cons is that there's overhead. There's creative disagreement and communication. There's a lot of blind trust needed to speed things up.


> Cofounders either pull you forward or drag you back

This is so true. Too many founders think having more people will automatically pull them forward simply based on the sheer number of founders. So many of them find out otherwise.


This is interesting -- could you clarify what made cofounders drag you back? And knowing what you know now, how would you spot and avoid such people in the future?

The band analogy applies, or say a director/actor relationship. You shouldn't be telling them what to play, it's mutual collaboration. If they're designers, they look at what the thing is supposed to do, what it's not doing right, and find a way to communicate that to the user. If they're business, they continually understand the product and figure a plan to sell it.

Avoid the ones who are dragging their feet. There's many variations of this. Some are good at acting excited. Some bombard you with meetings. Some do what's expected, then stop, or worse, they find excuses why it's impossible.

A discussion with them energizes you, and they're energized by you. It's like nuclear energy, there's a chain reaction between you. You can trust them to handle whatever needs handling.


Potentially, if they aren't performing, it's a drag. For me, not really about avoiding such people, but whoever you choose should blow your mind and you should have utmost respect for.

There are people out there who love the idea of a big pay day in a startup, inflate their expertise, lie, gaslight you about it, waste your runway and are generally toxic manipulators who will ruin everything you are trying to do because they are useless individuals with no shame.

Cofounder? Never again. Build it and get employees instead.


Solo founder here.

Pros: you answer only to yourself.

Cons: you answer only to yourself.

When you’re flying solo you get to make all the decisions, but there’s no check and balance. Nobody to push you or keep you accountable.

On the other hand, there’s nobody to argue with and nobody to get in your way. You can build what you want.

Truthfully, I think it’s hard to gauge pros and cons because the personalities of the cofounders matter a lot. For example, Apple wouldn’t be Apple if it started with two Wozniaks or two Jobs. The specific combination of both is what brought the company to life.


I hope it doesn't turn out that you are your friend's potential cofounder, but he decides to take his venture solo and becomes a huge success without you.

Pros: your own rhythm Cons: you are limited by what you know & how fast you can learn/ejecute

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – African proverb



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