There is no doubt that founding a company is hard work, whether you have a team of one, two, three or more. But there are a number of things that are particularly hard about being a solo founder.
As I look back on the past nine months since the beginning of the year I thought it would be an opportune time to reflect on some of the challenges that come with being a solo founder and also offer some insight on how to minimize their impact.
It Can Be Lonely
This is so obvious it can often be overlooked by solo founders. When you are trying to build a company as a solo founder, even if you have a team of employees it can feel lonely at the top.
There are a million and one things to do in a startup at any one time and as a solo founder you don’t have anyone within the company who you can bounce these large strategic ideas or challenges off.
To overcome this challenge associated with being a solo founder you need to find someone you can confide in. Whether that be a spouse, parent, loved one or fellow startup founder sometimes you just need to get things off your chest and talking to them can certainly help with that.
I also believe it is ideal if you can connect with another solo startup founder who is at a similar stage of the startup journey with you.
That way they can act as a sounding board for your ideas and challenges. Chances are they are also facing similar issues.
Time Is A Massive Challenge
There are times when I think if I had a 100 hours in a day I wouldn’t get everything I need done. While I’m sure this is a challenge for all startups, one of the hard things about being a solo founder is that you can only tackle one problem at a time.
This is fine when everything is going right, but what happens when two or three problems pop up all at once. With a team of co-founders around you, you could assign one issue to each person and tackle them simultaneously. As a solo founder you don’t have that luxury.
While not all challenges can be delegated to your team I have found that having a team of developers I can trust has greatly assisted me in this area. I still need to be involved in working through the problem and identifying a way forward, but once the “idea” behind the issue has been solved I know I can pass it onto team to work on with confidence.
Another “hack” I have found useful is to outsource non core functions to a Virtual Assistant.
This helps free up time to focus on the bigger issues that require your attention.
Everything Is On You
As the solo founder of a startup everything is on you.
If you make a mistake and decide to build a feature no one uses, its your fault.
If you decide to spend money on an ad campaign and it doesn’t work, its your fault.
If you chase this dream and your company implodes, its your fault.
This is can affect people in different ways. Some struggle with the pressure that this brings, while others can brush it off with ease. At the end of the day I enjoy the challenge of knowing that the buck stops with me, but it does help if you have someone you can talk to and share the burden with.
You Are Battling The Popular Opinion
If you opt to go it alone you are going against the widely held opinion that startups should only be founded by teams. This can make it more difficult when approaching investors. In fact, so flat out refuse to invest in solo founders.
But as I have previously written about there are a number of examples of success solo founders, as well as precedent for accelerator programs like Y Combinator, or 500 Startups to accept solo founders despite what their FAQ section says. Yes, its harder. But it can be done.
The best way of overcoming this obstacle is traction!
An investor may say they want to invest in a team, but if you are growing 10% week or week, chances are their tune will change very quickly.
Plus, at the end of the day by these investors self-selecting themselves as being uninterested in solo founders helps you focus your time and energy on those who may be willing to invest.
Internal Sources of Funding Can Be More Limited
If you are in a team or 2, 3 or 4 you potentially have 2x, 3x or 4x the amount of starting capital available to you. Using a simple example, say each co-founder can pool together $10,000. Having 4 co-founders gives you 4x the capital to get your company off the ground and if you adopt the lean startup approach that may be the difference between finding product market fit or running out of capital before you do.
As a solo founder who is bootstrapping Task Pigeon I was accurate with my estimate on what it would take to get the MVP off the ground, but underestimated how much more I would spend building out features and improving the product. As a result I recommend that if you are a solo founder with non-tech skills that you make sure you have access to at least 1.5 – 2x what you initially expect it to cost.
The last thing you want to do is build your MVP and have no money to market or iterate on it.
Despite all of these challenges I would have changed my approach to launch Task Pigeon as a solo founder. I think deep down we all know how we work best, and my strength is in being a solo founder. I have tried working with a co-founder on another project that didn’t quite get off the ground, and while it wasn’t a personality issue, I believe that with the way I operate going in with a co-founder would bring just as much, if not more risk than going it alone.
That said, if you already have a strong relationship with someone who shares a similar passion for the problem you are trying to solve and enjoy working with them, then deciding to co-found a startup is a valuable strategy. As we can see from the above the ability to unlock additional time and monetary resources is a big factor to consider. As is the ability to just sit down and chat with someone who knows the businesses as intimately as you do.