Is it really that hard for "solo" entrepreneurs to succeed?


14

I've seen and heard in many websites, magazines and talking to people the same thing over and over again... A lot of people seem to agree that "solo" entrepreneurs don't have a chance to succeed. Many said that starting a company is hard, a lot of work and so that you should do it at least with someone else to share the workload, responsibilities, the stress, etc.

Even Y-combinator has the following Q&A in their website:

Can a single person apply for funding?

Yes, but the odds of being accepted are much lower. A startup is too much work for one person.

Is it really that hard for "solo" entrepreneurs to succeed?

Solo Entrepreneur Founder

asked Oct 10 '09 at 11:28
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Ricardo
4,815 points
  • Define success. I think the problem is that everyone thinks their idea needs funding. – Mike Nereson 5 years ago
  • Not everyone needs funding, I agree on that 100%. My definition of success is to have a company that makes a profit. – Ricardo 5 years ago
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10 Answers


18

It's not true that "solos" don't have a chance.

I'm a case in point -- I started Smart Bear myself (first employee after 2.5 years), grew it to millions it profits, and sold the company as well.

It is true that it's hard. It's harder because there's more work to do, and harder because there's no one to share the emotional burden.

But of course it's possible. Don't let that stop you.

You can always find a co-founder if you want.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 11:38
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Jason
16,241 points
  • Thank you for your comment Jason. I read your blog and up until today I was not aware that you started Smart Bear by yourself, it is good to hear that, it inspires me. Thanks! – Ricardo 7 years ago
  • That blog post definitely made me feel better! – Tempy 6 years ago
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7

Getting a co-founder just because I had heard that solo entrepreneurs don't make it was a big mistake for me. I'm still doing all the solo work and now have someone else to deal with on top of it. If you find a cofounder who really excites you then pick them up - note, you don't have to start the business as partners, you can start by yourself and bring them on later at equity/founder level not employee level. But just go for it. Most entrepreneurs I know locally are solo and are doing great.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 21:02
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Jay
131 points

5

Doing it yourself is hard, but if one of your goals with your startup is to learn what it takes, ALL that it takes, to make, sell, market, support etc. software, being solo is a GREAT learning experience. The buck stops at you for EVERY SINGLE thing. It's both a daunting and empowering feeling. Either you roll up your sleeves and figure it out, or it won't get done. Period.

I also found that if you're alone, your startups' level of success is a direct reflection, a tangible representation of "the best you can do", there's no blaming anyone else for errors.

So as a learning and learning about yourself opportunity, I'd say there's nothing like it!

answered Oct 10 '09 at 17:43
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Peldi Guilizzoni
321 points
  • Peldi, thanks for your comments! did you started balsamiq by yourself? just curious, we all know your company has been very successful and we all hope to get there soon. – Ricardo 7 years ago
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2

Whenever you hear "people say X" you have to think about who says that. Because in your case, the question can be answered from two very distinct (and both valid) points of reference. The investor, and the entrepreneur.

As a solo founder (told all the time that I am doing all in reverse/wrong), I can tell you what are the good sides of being solo (assuming you already know the bad ones):

  • Decisions can be made much quicker, much more abrupt, much "braver", less political (which can be a good thing if used with some sense).
  • In a special way your one-man "team" is much more resilient than a real team. I observed many startup teams in local hacker spaces fall apart (for various interpersonal reasons that were mainly a proxy) for not holding together while going thru hard "Throught of Sorrow"(PG) period. One guy out of 3 left (or was scape-goated out), the other 2 persevered for a while and after a while stopped. If you are 1 guy you can't split from yourself, you can't (successfully) scapegoat yourself.
  • If you want to bootstrap you can become profitable 1/N sooner.

About who from my opening sentence. Let's use somewhat inappropriate, but very graphical comparison with dog racing.

You are either the one betting on dogs, or you are a dog. If you are betting on them you dilute your risk by 3 if you bet on INYO top 3 dogs instead of 1. If you are one of the dogs, your mathematics is different.

My point: it's clear why investors rather invest in teams of people, but given the appropriate scope (and other specifics) of project (and you), that doesn't mean at all you have a much lesser chance of succeeding if you go solo.

One bad thing about going solo is that you have much smaller knowledge/brain/opinion span to work on your dilemmas/plans. That can be mitigated a lot by releasing early and asking for feedback a lot (hence whole world is your "cofounder") joining local communities and finding advisers. I have very good experience with all 3 of these. In fact, because you don't have an enclosed team of people that tries to solve their dilemmas inside, your startup can be much more extrovert and prone to echo chamber effect!

Not saying there aren't bad sides too, but they have been pointed out many times already.

My context: I am profitable, but I haven't succeeded yet so take my opinion with that in mind.

answered Jan 13 '13 at 21:29
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Janko M
21 points
  • +1 particularly for "asking for feedback a lot (hence whole world is your "cofounder") joining local comunities and finding advisers." – Cad Bloke 3 years ago
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2

It is really hard for any entrepreneurs to succeed... Whether solo or a part of a team, it is hard. There are different difficulties to each.

Being solo means all the responsibility is on you. There is no one to share your load, no one to give you advice and no one to cover for you if you are having an off day. Also, it requires certain management skills that not everyone has, so you either need to hire the right people or find the right partners (there are many CTOs that are not suited to being CEOs, despite being great at what they do).

Being a part of a team first requires finding the right team. It means finding someone you get along with well, that compliments your skills and shares our vision for the company. It also means having an iron clad founders agreement, otherwise when things started changing and priorities change, the company will suffer. If you are solo and you want to change the companies focus or quit and shut the company down, it's your right, but if you or a fellow founder want that, then things get messy.

My opinion is that going solo is more than possible for anyone that can handle it. Having said that, I also think you should always be open to getting a partner, if it is the right partner.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 18:44
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Ron Ga
2,176 points
  • I am open to getting a partner, I just don't think is necessary at the moment and I wanted to figure it out if it was a "must" to have a partner or not. Thanks for your comments! – Ricardo 7 years ago
  • There are few things you MUST do in business... Your must pay your taxes, you must treat your employees well, you must take care of your customers needs... Other then that, and maybee a couple of more MUSTs, anything is fair game if you believe you can pull it off, partnering up included. Good luck! – Ron Ga 7 years ago
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1

I like to think of it this way; it's increasingly easy given the resources available online.

  • Google Docs to manage your calendar and email
  • LinkedIn and Freshbooks to network
  • WordPress to set up an optimized website and blog
  • oDesk or Guru to find contract support
  • If I can throw in Outright.com - to automate your back office

Online resources are free and increasingly interconnected so you can easily get started and focus on what you need to be a success - finding customers, developing product, establishing your business.

answered Oct 14 '09 at 09:56
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Paul O'brien
521 points
  • outsource ftw. If it's not your core business then don't waste the time nor the headspace setting it up and doing it. – Cad Bloke 5 years ago
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1

I'm a solo entrepreneur myself, and I find it very encouraging to consider how many solo entrepreneurs have build successful companies:

  • Giacomo ‘Peldi’ Guilizzonini (Balsamiq)
  • Jane Wurwand (Dermatalogica)
  • Jeff Bezos (Amazon)
  • Dennis 'Chip' Wilson (Lululemon)
  • Sam Walton (WalMart)
  • Pierre Omidyar (eBay)
  • Fred Smith (Fedex)

You can find a few more, along with their stories, in a blog post I wrote.

answered Jan 12 '13 at 08:10
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Jrullmann
383 points

1

Jason's example is a great counterpoint; also remember that YCombinator, VCs, and (tech) Angel investors are typically looking for companies that can grow very big very fast. The level of success you need to achieve and the level of challenges you need to tackle to have the business you want may be nowhere near what they're looking for.

The obvious examples of solo "businesses" are really just someone's freelance work; they're good at something and they do it for hire. Because they're good people coming to them, so they don't need a lot of high-end marketing and sales.

As an ISV you're maybe starting to rely more on other areas besides your native skill, but that doesn't mean you can't do it alone. If you're a developer building tools for developers (like Jason) then you have a good understanding of your audience and depending on your participation in the communities you may have a market ready to buy. But remember this is a crowded market.

Having co-founders helps when the business can't succeed without bringing together some very different areas; for example, if you're building a technically challenging software product for fashion designers you probably don't know enough to design and sell it on your own (sorry). But if you can grow to a certain point on your own, then you can hire to go further.

I would say the final test for needing a co-founder is if the business doesn't make sense without someone else. If you're not thinking of someone you know and trust already it might be a difficult business for you to get into, especially as your first business. On that note, having a co-founder with different skills and specialties (the best kind) can do more to lock you in a certain direction which may not be what you need at this point if you're exploring possibility and building contacts and visibility. Once you have a few more years of experience you may spot a great market opportunity and know the right person to work with. You'll also be better at spotting people who won't contribute so you're not giving away equity for nothing.

answered May 27 '11 at 02:39
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Richardg
474 points

0

Maybe it's an audience thing, where we are all in the same bucket and so give the same answer, but I haven't seen an adequate response (yet).

I think the problem is that Angels and VCs (like YC) have this view - and often the entrepreneur needs their funding (or thinks he/she does) to get to the next level. So, in that context, does one really need to build a management team in order to get funding?

If not, who are the Angels that might fund Ricardo without him getting a co-founder? I'd like to know them too.

I'm sure the management team can be built in any form. Actually, that's a good separate question, so feel free to address it. But pre-employees, the founder gets these comments that suggest a need for a co-founder (like Microsoft had). Is that true?

answered Oct 11 '09 at 04:53
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Anonimouse
119 points

0

My opinion on this is to select your "solo" entrepreneur business in an area you have some good prior skills in that subject area. Then you can use as part of the proposal your years of past experience in that particular area.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 18:42
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Derek Beda
221 points

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