Going it Alone VS. Seeking a Co-Founder


23

Working on my first startup, I'm fortunate enough to have a wide set of "do-it-myself" skills, ranging from technical to industry specific. I haven't been looking for a partner, quite simply, because I haven't had the pressing need.

But there's a case to be made for having another full-timer onboard.

--

Very curious to hear your thoughts:

  • Does a jack-of-all-trades spread himself too thin?
  • Can a startup get by with consultants/employees, focusing instead on effective systems (rather than incredible people)?
  • Any experiences/insights from going it alone in the past?

For context, I'm manufacturing a consumer product overseas to sell online (lots of hats to wear!).

Co-Founder

asked Oct 16 '09 at 00:36
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Ez Yz
473 points
  • I appreciate the outpouring of responses here! The overwhelming vote towards having a co-founder is interesting. I would definitely bring someone onboard if the fit was right, but the challenge lies in finding that allstar individual. But that's a subject for a different thread. Thanks again! Y – Ez Yz 10 years ago

11 Answers


20

I'm strongly in favor of finding co-founders (that's partly what my current startup is about: finding co-founders).

Why? Going from 1 person to two persons will triple the quality of your product. You are correct 80% of the time, because you are smart. But it means you make the wrong decisions 20% of the time. With your co-founders, you'll make correct decisions 99% of the time (or something to that effect), because your co-founder will detect the few cases when you are wrong. And vice-versa.

There are many other benefits to having a co-founder: moral support when the going gets tough; double the amount of work that can be done, so things move faster, etc.

The main challenge of course is to find a real co-founder, someone who believes in the vision and will work for free (stock). Stay away from consultants who agree to anything you say as long you pay their invoices.

answered Oct 16 '09 at 01:31
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Alain Raynaud
10,927 points
  • Nit pick: If you jointly make all decisions and magically pick the right answer when you disagree, you'll make correct decisions 96% of the time. Totally agree with the rest. – Denis Hennessy 10 years ago
  • +1 And agreed with Denis' add-on – Jason 10 years ago

10

My last company was solo, and it was really hard that way. Further, I've +1'ed everyone above -- great points.

Almost certainly the correct thing to do is to have a co-founder. Paul Graham (Y-Combinator) says he almost exclusively goes with multi-founder companies.

But, you have to get over the control-freak part of you. This is of course a personal thing. For me I have to admit that it's really hard to give up even trivial decisions. That's crappy, I know! But it's also a fact.

answered Oct 16 '09 at 04:20
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Jason
16,231 points
  • Knowing myself, the letting go of control thing will be a learning curve! But hey, that's a big part of why I'm here. Great point! – Ez Yz 10 years ago

10

First of all, I wish you all the best in your business.

Now back to the question:

I think you are well aware of the benefits of going alone, so I´ll skip that part. The only down side of being on your own is that your growth will be extremely limited. You can only do as much as a one man army. If you are thinking of growing your business, you are gonna have to bring somebody on board.

My advice to finding a partner is this: TAKE YOUR TIME. Don´t rush it. Finding a partner is the most critical decision you´ll ever make, so be careful. The right partner can boost your business, but the wrong one can sink it and stress you out like an angry bitter wife :-)

This is what I think is the best strategy to find a partner:

  1. Decide who are you? Do you hunt (sales, marketing, innovation, business development, partnerships) better than cook (finance, operations, back office work)?
  2. If you are a hunter, find a cooker and vice versa. Never hire a hunter, if you already excel at hunting.

Microsoft is a good example. Bill Gates was a good cooker, but most of all he was a great hunter. Who did he hire as a partner? Steve Ballmer, not a bad hunter, but above all an excellent operations guy (cooker).

Good luck.

answered Dec 5 '09 at 02:25
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A. Garcia
1,601 points
  • Hey Aurelio, I think you're right. I've been flying solo still, despite the strong arguments for having a co-founder from this board. Yes, the workload is heavy, but having the right partner is crucial. – Ez Yz 10 years ago
  • Great example about cooker and hunter. Now I realize what I am :) – Meetpd 6 years ago

8

I tried going both ways. Doing it all by yourself has some pros: you get to call all the shots, keep full ownership of the company, etc.

But in my opinion having a partner is much better for a number of reasons:

  • You have someone to be accountable to.
  • There is always a shoulder to cry on and lean for support.
  • There is too much to be done in a startup for single person.
  • Bounce ideas off your partner.
  • Outsourcing everything but you core competence helps, but there is no substitute for people passionate about the business.
  • Outsourcing and employees cost money, and a co-founder is much cheaper at least in the short term.
answered Oct 16 '09 at 01:52
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Slav Ivanov
1,146 points
  • +1 here too. These benefits are a big deal. – Jason 10 years ago
  • Funny - this looks like a list I put together this afternoon as reasons for forming an entrepreneurial co-working group. You're absolutely right though. – Ez Yz 10 years ago

5

It is great to know that you have a strong multi disciplinary set of skills which helps you manage multiple aspects of your business. However if you were rank them in according to skill or competence level I am sure some would rank higher than others. By doing everything ourselves we sacrifice the ability to become really good at something.

Having another co-founder will help you find that balance. They should be selected in the areas where you are not as strong and would greatly benefit from someone with a greater skill level and experience.

Other aspects of your business such as scaling, promotion and efficiency measures should also increase given that you are able to select an appropriate co-founder.

answered Oct 16 '09 at 22:00
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Usman Sheikh
1,728 points

4

I am probably in the minority but I prefer going it alone.

While definitely the lonelier path, going solo has the huge benefit of retaining 100% equity in your product as well as full control over the direction of the company. If there are particular skills you lack you can always hire people down the road to help you out.

Before taking on partners, especially when they are equal partners, you really need to make sure your personalities are compatible and you have a system in place to resolve conflicts before you start (for example by having a “Mexican Shootout” clause in your agreement).

answered Oct 24 '09 at 18:51
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Oleg Barshay
2,091 points

4

Another couple of plus points:

  • It's validation that your idea / plan doesn't suck - you've managed to persuade one other smart person that it's a good idea, and to work for free on it (note: consultants don't count) in return for future rewards
  • If you ever want to get investment then you'll find it easier to persuade investors to back you if there are two of you (partly because you've managed to persuade one other smart person that it's a good idea already)

For me, the plus points way outweigh the negatives. But, of course, you need to find the right person, and you need to make sure their ambitions match yours.

Noam Wasserman, a professor at Harvard Business School, has written a bunch of stuff about this sort of thing.

answered Oct 17 '09 at 16:36
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Neil Davidson
1,839 points
  • Thanks Neil, that was a really thought provoking article. At the end of the day, whether with a friend or a stranger, I think the case has overwhelmingly been made for having a co-founder. – Ez Yz 10 years ago

2

I covered the topic in a blog post here: Hiring in a Startup and link to other relevant article

answered Dec 4 '09 at 15:32
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Mark Suster
545 points
  • Thanks Mark, your post took a different stance which I'm grateful for. To everyone else: This is a must read for anyone just getting their feet wet! – Ez Yz 10 years ago

1

I find it is far easier to have a partner - even if is just to have someone else to talk to about your ideas.

Startups and small business can be an emotional roller coaster - being able to have that support and camaraderie is very beneficial.

Being able to split work is also very important - the best case is if you have complementary interests and skill sets, but even if that is not the case it is still great to have a partner.

answered Oct 29 '09 at 00:33
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Tim J
8,346 points

1

I know little about this first hand, but I'll echo what I've learned from This Week in Startups. One of Calacanis' suggestions on this topic is that having a partner can be a mixed blessing. On one hand you have the additional help of a partner in exchange for, usually, a percent stake in the ownership. Your partner may be gung ho in the beginning, but if he/she loses interest you now have a ball and chain holding you down and they still own a piece of your business. Your only choice could then be to buy him/her out to get your business back. The suggestion was to be extremely critical of who you pick as partner.

answered Oct 16 '09 at 21:20
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Spoulson
221 points

1

You should find a co-founder if for no other reason than to prove you can sell the idea and get someone to pay for it (with their time in this case).

Great people with a mediocre system will always do better than mediocre people and a great system. There is no substitute for great people.

answered Oct 17 '09 at 12:55
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Jerry
141 points

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