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Applying to YC as a Single Founder (jazzychad.net)
158 points by jazzychad on Aug 31, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 40 comments

It would be great if someone started an incubator devoted to single founders, specifically tailoring the program to address some of the associated shortcomings. Perhaps it could also be a fertile ground to merge any compatible founders into teams.

If any angel(s) are looking for a niche in the incubator "market", this would be a pretty good one. Real value can be created if someone can increase the chances of success for single founders.

I don't have the time or funds for an incubator yet, but I have helped fund two single founders so far, and am open to doing more.

I'm a single founder who's had success, and am toying around with the idea of starting an incubator. Wouldn't mind a partner this time around -- the single founder way is great for utmost control but sometimes you need someone to help you see the forest for the trees.

as a single founder (non-tech to boot!) I'd love to see that - but why limit yourself to a sub-batch of entrepreneurs? Why not just be a single-founder friendly incubator?

There are benefits to targeting a niche, common problems through the group, easier to market the incubator to a group, differentiation to other incubators.

From my point of view I would love to see a go-to place for single founders, if there's one thing we could use it's others to talk to where friends/family just don't cut it!

Who is the poster child for the single founder success story?

Pierre Omidyar was a single founder when he started eBay in 1995. He brought in employee #1 (Jeffrey Skoll), in 1996, and Meg Whitman in 1998.

Jeff Bezos was a solo founder when he started Amazon in 1994. Employee #1 (Shel Kaphan) was brought on before incorporation, but says Jeff was the founder (http://www.geekwire.com/2011/meet-shel-kaphan-amazoncom-empl...)

Brilliant, I was not aware of these facts.

More recently, Omar Hamoui was a solo founder of AdMob, which sold to Google for $750 million

Andrew Mason was a solo founder of Groupon, started with $1 million seed money from a former employer.

Do we all realize that Mark Z... is actually a single founder ?!

That's up for debate. Zuckerberg did early hacking on his own, but he started the company with Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin, and Chris Hughes.

In recent history, Mint.com is the poster child, however there is still an open question about whether he sold too early.

Lots of people like to point out Drew Houston of Dropbox as another single-founder success story (and it is!), but he did have a co-founder by the time they presented at Demo Day (if not before YC started, I can't remember which).

However, he did apply as a single-founder. Here is his YC S07 application: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/27532820/app.html

Wolfram Research is one. Stephen Wolfram gave a talk at the first Startup School for Hackers.

This just showed up today (mailchimp buys tinyletter): http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2947625

The single founder was Philip Kaplan (although he's not you're average single founder).

Dropbox was single founder when accepted into YC

I think this sounds great. While I'm aware of a couple studies that show single-founder companies being less successful than multiple-founder companies, I think the problem is being exacerbated by a self-fulfilling prophecy created by investors that single-founder companies cannot succeed.

> It would be great if someone started an incubator devoted to single founders

But then how would the VCs play the founders off one another?

What? VCs don't play founders off one another... not reputable ones, anyway.

> not reputable ones, anyway.

You're either a VC or under 30.

Edit: There is clearly not a lot of gray hair on this site.

Your comment history indicates that you like to be contrary and/or snarky, so I'm not replying to you, but for others reading this thread... there are actually good VCs out there (and yes, there are a lot of bad ones).

There are definitely investors who do this kind of thing to business partners, but they are usually non silicon valley, non tech investors (like a local car dealership owner who is investing in a restaurant). It is really rare among professional investors. It might happen again at the private equity level, where established businesses are being restructured, but there you could argue the value is not with the founders in all cases, or with management. I have little experience at that scale though.

In a startup, the founders, and their relationship with each other and the company, is probably the biggest asset. If an investor doesn't like the team, he just won't invest at all.

jazzychad is clearly a smart guy, and capable of running things early - people like pg know that he has what it takes to get the company to a certain point, but also knows that jazzychad knows when he needs help, and isnt afraid to say so, a very important trait for successful founders.

9 times out of 10 you've come up with this idea on the crapper, in the shower, or at the bar with your friends - spend more time thinking at a high level, who will use this (target market), how much money could i make (market size), and what will it need (design, development[mobile, web], advertising, sales team, support, infrastructure), and how long it will take. After running through these things, the result is not likely to be you deciding to apply to YC as a single founder. [see last paragraph of comment if you just can't find a co-founder, it happens]

People who are capable of executing as a single founder will do so, and people like pg can see this by looking at the individuals history, and talking with them about their new idea.

Single founders that fail are founders who are overly confident, execute badly, or are scared of 'big scary investors' and negative feedback (yea there are more, these are just examples). Folks like pg can see these things in people, and will deny your application, rightfully so.

If you have an idea, and you think that YOU as an individual are the perfect 'team' then apply to YC that way, if pg agrees you'll get in. I can't imagine it happens very often that people who are humble and grounded think to themselves "I don't need anyone else, I am a baus!", if you do, step back and rethink things.

If its a matter of you just not being able to find a co-founder, why not just disclose it, and ask for help rather than trying to manipulate your app, or your idea to appear as though you don't need help?

If you don't have the confidence to go after something solo, maybe you shouldn't be in charge in the first place. Having said that, personal experiences have taught me that a great partner can help innovation through the checks and balances that occur during brainstorming.

Hey "Vincent," are you professionally affiliated with AT&T?


Mark Suster on "the co-founder mythology": http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2011/05/09/the-co-founder...

IMO the question is more nuanced than "how many founders is best", e.g. at the Google IO funding panel, it was stated 4 is statistically optimal (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15iWltPLuPY). But really, we should be asking what is right for a given type of industry/business, and what is right for different types of people.

I appreciate the post, I'm hoping to get my app in by tomorrow as a solo founder (though I am interviewing a potential cofounder, hopefully we can work something out within the next month).

I particularly loved the part where you asked pg why he let you in. If nothing else, I understand my startup backwards, forewards, inside out and upside down, and I'm getting closer to conveying all that in the app.

Life keeps getting crazier and crazier, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Great post as usual Chad, keep plugging along man, you're too talented not to do great things

Thank you! I hope you are right :)

I would be interested to know with the odds already stacked against single founders, what the likelihood of a non-technical single founder getting accepted is. I can't imagine it is high. Has there ever been one in YC?

There was one in the batch that just ended - Hamilton Chan, Paperlinks: http://mashable.com/author/hamilton-chan/

Was it one of the publicly-launched companies?

Yes, one, if I remember correctly... but he had considerable experience running companies previously in a related space. I have to think that is super rare, though.

here are my reasonings for applying as a single founder again, while it may not be the only decision sometimes I think it is defintely the best one.


I don't yet know enough about the single founder bit, but there is one unrelated sentence that you write that gives me great pause in the way you chose to write it:

"But, if you want to do something big in the tech sector, you absolutely must be in SV for the connections, money, talent, etc."

Really? You "absolutely must" be in SV? Seems like Groupon, Foursquare, Groupme, Bitly, Grubhub, Gawker, Gilt, Kickstarter, Amazon, Tumblr etc etc etc are doing just fine not in SV.

Great companies can be started in many places. A critical mass is helpful, as is money. You can get money from anywhere. I'm from Pittsburgh. A company there (Dynamics) just raised a $35 million series B. They are doing great on "connections, money, talent, etc" in Pittsburgh. Several of your YC batchmates will leave SV for other places. They will be just fine on all those things too. You might not have been fine in NC, but there are many places you would be able to raise money, find talent, etc. We ended up rejecting some VC's that wanted us to be in Cali but ended up with terms we liked from investors we like. (We're in Chicago) I have occasionally given thought to going back to SF/SV but for our business there wouldn't be any impact other than we'd have to pay higher salaries and rent.

OP here. Ok, yes that statement was a little bit extreme on my part, but I think it is still 95% true. Startup location is another one of those holy-war topics, but if you want to learn by immersion, SV is the place to do it. There are certainly valid reasons for locating a company outside of SV, but for first-timers like myself trying to build my network of peers, professionals, mentors, friends, VCs, etc, it feels like this is the center of the universe (for better or for worse).

Of course companies can be built elsewhere. People with one leg can finish marathons. That doesn't mean it isn't sub-optimal.

Startups are pretty dicey. I don't know what a founder's chances are, but I'm pretty sure that they are better in the Valley. Depending on your market, your personal network, etc., they might not be THAT much better... But it's pretty hard to argue that, on average, the Valley doesn't help your chances in StartupLand.

Sure, if you want to examine companies over 15 years (as in your list) you can find companies with big VC in many different geographic locations. That doesn't chance the fact that most such companies are in the valley. I find the idea that you should be in the valley if you want big VC relatively straightforward and uncontroversial.


Sidebar: Of course, if you're going to go for a different type of startup than YC's particular brand, you can do it from anywhere (central Japan, for instance). The article refers to such startups as a "lifestyle businesses". I find this terminology hilarious considering the most prominent example of a "lifestyle business" in our field has funded a racecar build by advanced beings for one of its founders.

You said "most," the article said "Absolutely must." Also apart from Amazon, all of the companies on that list were funded in the last couple of years, so your 15 year span is sort of ridiculous.

"you should be in the valley if you want big VC relatively straightforward and uncontroversial."

The guy just gave you scores of examples of companies not in the valley that raised big VC - controversy

To be fair, for every startup you can namedrop who isn't in CA/SF/SV, I think someone can probably name two who are.

not sure about the others, but Groupon opened offices in SV . . .

They now have a pretty small Palo Alto office (<100 people) and over 3,000 in Chicago. I don't actually think it's that relevant as they started and got huge (Google wanted to buy them for $6Bn huge) without the presence in SV

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