There is an amazingly persistent myth in Silicon Valley that having a co-founder somehow makes the company more likely to succeed. The argument given is that when the going gets tough, the other person will pull you through. Being a single founder is discouraged; it might mean you may not get funding etc.
Time after time, these theories are offered first and not substantiated with any proof later. The Steve Jobs/Wozniak story is the one big piece of evidence some of them produce.
I don’t know the research on this, but let me also spout from my anecdotal evidence after having started a SAAS startup with no co-founders and having tasted some success.
1. Some people like to work alone. There are singles tennis players that are terrible at playing doubles. Yet, they are accepted there. Singles tennis is more popular than doubles. Doubles tennis should make the game doubly exciting and doubly interesting, with double the amount of skills and energy. It seems to produce a less entertaining version of the game if you go by sheer viewership. So not only do some people like to work alone, it is probably better than they do in some instances.
2. You are only as strong as the weakest link. You are only as fast as the slowest mover. In a partnership, it could start a downward spiral if one of the partners is not pulling his weight. The other one may not want to give it his all “till” he finds matching effort put in by the other. So you start getting into these weird
3. Many times, a partnership doesn’t encourage you to do brave things; it becomes more like a huddle for warmth when faced with troubles. Many of the right partners in business often lie outside of the company. My seven-year-old daughter competes in a school running race; my wife and I are partners, her cheerleaders even though we don’t run alongside her. We want her to do things on her own many times.
4. Agendas change and priorities change. What happens when a co-founder no longer wants the same things as you? The person gets married, has a different financial status, has to move, has to care for a child, has a death in the family, and is questioning the meaning of life, can’t handle the stress and wants out. The untold truth is that this is one of the most common traumas that befall founders leading to years of stalemates in an otherwise ok and workable setup. Lawsuits, resentments, and ugly separations are more common than you think.
5. What works for the VC doesn’t have to work for you. You will have to remember that a lot of these push for co-founders come from VCs who are trying to hedge their bets in case, your priorities change, and something happens to you. So they have someone else to run with, to put pressure on, to have on their side, etc.
6. Another of my favorite logics they employ is this.
If you can’t even convince one other person to join you, how will you build a big company?
Your job is to persuade your clients by making a great product and talking about it. Period. Think about it, if you have an idea and you are raring to go with it to the market, isn’t it unnatural and weird to first find a co-founder? Isn’t there something wrong with this picture? Yet, this is what some VCs insist on. However, you happen to be discussing an idea along with someone, and you both are enthusiastic about going at it together, by all means, go ahead.
How do you know if a particular idea needs to have a co-founder or not? By the events that lead to it. If it happened to you alone, then that’s what the idea needs. Maybe, just you. If it occurs in a group think, then that’s what that idea needs — all of you.
While building my startup Proxies API on my own, I have had down days, scary days as well. The point is to learn thoroughly by going through the fear entirely, not by reducing its intensity or by huddling together in fear with another person. The full learning of the experience will not come to you unless you face all the feelings it brings in its entirety.
The author is the founder of Proxies API the rotating proxies service.
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