Founding a company is hard. You’ve got an infinite number of decisions to make while simultaneously trying to catch lightning in a bottle with creating something out of nothing. It’s even harder when you’re doing it alone.
Being a solo founder, in many ways, stacks the deck against you. You’re left shouldering the weight of every single decision and don’t really have any one to share it with. However, there are some ways to make it easier and, in many cases, it can actually be a major pro to start a company solo.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits as well as drawbacks so you can figure out if being a solo founder is right for you. Then we’ll tackle some ways to make being a solo founder a pretty great thing.
The cons of being a solo founder
There are definitely some drawbacks to running the ship solo.
You’ll get tired of making so many decisions
Decision fatigue is a real thing and when you’re the sole person making every single major decision, it’s draining. It’s easy to make bad decisions because you’re just tired of making any decision.
Every move comes back to you
There’s a lot of weight resting on your shoulders and that can get heavy. Day after day of wondering if you did/didn’t make the right decision will wear on your psyche.
Hard to brainstorm big ideas
When you’re thinking big picture, having a couple of other co-founders to hash out an idea or talk through why something may or may not work, is really beneficial. You don’t have that as a solo founder. Sure, you can have others on your team to do that with, but it’s less effective.
Seeing different perspectives is difficult
Most people have an area of expertise or at least a certain area they gravitate towards. For me, I’m a product guy. I default to focusing on the product before anything else.
On some days, that’s great. On others? Not so much. Some problems would be better solved if I was stronger around sales. Other problems would be easier to tackle if I was really great on the technical side of things.
When you’ve got co-founders across different areas of expertise, you’re able to pull all of those perspectives together and have a much more holistic view.
It’s just lonely
You’ll spend so much time in your own head, overthinking, overanalyzing and internalizing every little thing, with no great way for getting that out.
It’s very easy to make bad decisions
When you’re going at it solo, you can quickly get caught up in a bad idea and just run with it. You don’t have anyone to tell you that it’s a really stupid idea, leaving you vulnerable to getting distracted by things that won’t help your company (or worse, actually hurt it).
The pros of being a solo founder
Now that we’ve got all the cons out of the way, lets talk about the benefits!
You can move faster
When you’re able to make a decision without consulting others, you can do it quickly and move on with make that decision a reality.
There’s less drama
There are countless stories of co-founders butting heads and fighting over all the decisions. Egos can get out of control quickly. Co-founders can disagree strongly on where to take the company long term. Many times that ends with a less-than-amicable split that puts the company at risk.
When you’ve only got one person steering the ship, it’s clearer where it’s heading and who’s in charge. When a company lacks clear direction, it’s much harder for everyone on the team to know what to focus on.
Should you start a company solo?
If we tally up the pros and cons above, it would imply there are more cons than pros in the argument. And honestly, I think that’s true.
All things being equal, I definitely wish I had a co-founder for Baremetrics. I think it’s very difficult to start a company by yourself and if you’re able to have a co-founder (or a few!) then you should. But there are some significant caveats that can’t be ignored.
The blanket statement of “everyone should have a co-founder” is oversimplified at best. Because the only thing worst than having no co-founder is having a co-founder that’s a bad fit.
When you’ve got a bad mix of co-founders, any potential benefits get thrown right out the window. You drastically increase your chance of failure when you’ve got internal feuding and disagreements over company direction and it’s just not worth it.
So how on earth do you balance that? How do you avoid getting in to a bad co-founder relationship? Before we talk about tips for running a company solo, let’s briefly cover some ways folks who don’t want to go the solo route can increase their chances of success.
- Do a test project. Work on something with your potential co-founders first to get an idea of what it’s like.
- Have a clear hierarchy. If you’re the CEO, you absolutely must have final say…you can’t do a vote every time a decision needs to be made.
- Don’t add a co-founder after the fact. This is one of the most unusual Silicon Valley practices to me. Adding a co-founder well after the company has started is just asking to have a misalignment of priorities.
Tips for running a company solo
If you’re still hanging around and are convinced you’d like to go the solo route (or you’re already running your startup solo), let’s look at some ways to make that easier!
Have a community of other founders
Your spouse/partner/significant other may be a great listener, but they won’t be able to empathize or offer much practical advice. Having a small community or mastermind of other founders is crucial when you’re a solo founder.
You need people who can identify with the up’s and down’s and can offer practical advice for getting through those.
Involve your team in more decisions
Remove some of the pressure of making all the decisions by giving your team more autonomy. Stop micromanaging and give your team the opportunity to step up and make decisions too.
Great leaders equip their team not only with the tools they need, but with the direction and vision to know what to do without the need for intervention.
Set your team on the right path and let them bear the weight along with you.
Get out of the echo chamber
It’s important to get out of the startup echo chamber. Get a hobby, read about things outside of the startup scene, make friends with people who have no ties to the tech world.
Your brain needs inputs and stimulation from a huge variety of sources, otherwise you’ll get tunnel vision.
Prioritize mental & physical health
Everyone could stand to prioritize their mental and physical health more, but as a solo founder it’s a non-negotiable.
You spend the majority of your time in your head and you’ve got to get out of it. It’s easy to let the loneliness and pressure take over, so you need to find an outlet for that.
Maybe that’s talking to a therapist regularly. Maybe that’s meditation. Maybe it’s exercise. I run 3-4 times a week not only for physical benefits, but the mental as well.
It’s crucial to take care of yourself as the top priority. Everything else trickles down from that.
What about you?
What are your thoughts on being a solo founder? Any tips for making it work? What’s your experience been like?