The Advantages of Being a Solo Founder

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By Walker Donohue

There’s a lot of advice out there for “solopreneurs.”

Ever since Paul Graham published The 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups, back in 2006, in which he listed “Single Founder” as the first in a lengthy list of missteps, many people have argued against striking out on your own. The article was published just after Y Combinator was established. Since then, countless accelerators and VCs have looked down on the solo founder.

These days, being a solopreneur is almost as stigmatized as lacking a technical cofounder.

I may be only one person, but I’ve cofounded three successful startups. I founded my most recent startup, Podia, by myself. Your mileage may vary, but I think I’ve learned a thing or two about launching a startup on your own.

No cofounder doesn’t mean ‘no confidence’

Graham argues that being a solopreneur shows the world—and investors—that either your idea isn’t viable or you can’t persuade anybody to join you in your new venture.

What about those of us who weren’t looking for a cofounder?

In his post, Graham says that launching a startup is “too hard for one person.” But ambitious entrepreneurs launch successful businesses all by themselves every single day. More often than not, these solopreneurs could easily find a cofounder, but don’t need or want one. This doesn’t mean their idea is unworkable, or that they’re a social pariah. Sometimes it’s just easier to do things yourself.

When I founded Podia, I had years of experience, a solid track record of proven results, and an extensive network of contacts. I could have easily convinced someone to work with me. I just didn’t want to or need to.

No cofounder is better than a bad cofounder

Some entrepreneurs succumb to the pressure to find a cofounder. In many cases, this leads to cofounding companies with people you barely know.

If you don’t know somebody very well, it’s harder to be honest with them when things get tough. Talking about equity or responsibilities even with a trusted friend can be difficult. Talking about them with a near stranger can be almost impossible. Maybe a few months go by and everything’s great, but as soon as a problem rears its head, communication breaks down. At best, this creates unnecessary friction. At worst, it could sink the business before it even gets off the ground.

Having no choice but to work with a cofounder you can’t stand is far worse than striking out on your own. You might be able to salvage a promising business even if you’re squabbling with your cofounder, but wouldn’t it have been easier to just go it alone from the outset?

One voice, one vision

Being a solopreneur can be a little lonely, but there’s nothing better than knowing that you, and you alone, are in charge of your company.

This doesn’t mean you should run your startup like a medieval fiefdom. But having a single person guiding the company can make it easier to avoid ambiguity or confusion about the company’s mission or purpose.

I’ve been in situations in which it wasn’t immediately obvious who was calling the shots. Flat hierarchical structures might be an effective recruitment tool, but they can cause a lot of problems when things go wrong. As a solo founder, it’s on you and you alone. It’s a lot of responsibility, but it offers a lot of freedom, too.

Being a solopreneur doesn’t mean you’re calling all the shots, either. You might lack a cofounder, but this isn’t an excuse to micromanage your teams. You need to give your people the autonomy to do the work you hired them to do. As a solo founder, I’m not going to second-guess my head of engineering or question my head of growth’s six-month plan. I hired them for their skills and expertise, and trusting them to do what I hired them to do is an essential part of being a solo founder

At the end of the day, it’s all on you

One of the best—and worst—things about being a solo founder is that, when all’s said and done, the buck stops with you.

Being a solopreneur means you don’t have to run your decisions by anyone else. It also means there’s nobody else to blame when things go south. This might seem intimidating, but I use this as motivation to make Podia the very best company it can be. If I fall short, it’s all on me.

That’s not to say that your team isn’t responsible for their decisions, but you hired them—ultimately, it’s up to you to manage them.

Is being a solopreneur really that big a disadvantage?

In short, no. At least I don’t think so.

Launching a startup is hard. Really hard. Of all the things that could potentially sink your business—and there are seemingly thousands of them—lacking a cofounder isn’t one of them. If your idea is good, you’ll be fine. If it isn’t, even the most experienced cofounder won’t save you.

If you are a solopreneur or have struck out on your own against all odds, I’d love to hear your story. Drop me an email to share your success stories (and horror stories), or leave a comment below.

This is an edited guest post that originally appeared on Spencer Fry’s blog. You can read the original article here.

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