Pulling it off on your own as a solo founder
In theory, a co-founder doubles your skill set and productivity. As solo founders, we often feel the pressure from partners or investors who perceive us as a risky bet and advice us to find co-founders. Giving away half of the company to look legitimate in their eyes feels ridiculous, especially given how complicated relationships between founder typically are. After all, more than a half of startups fail because founders can’t get along well and putting your brainchild under such risk sounds like a bad idea. So how do you prepare yourself if you decide to go alone?
Keep your head together
There’s nothing harder than keeping your head together when you’re on your own. There are very simple pieces of advice that are everywhere, but it’s tough to follow them. For example, something as basic as getting enough sleep or getting plenty of exercises might be problematic. But without this foundation, you won’t have enough energy to push forward every day and make the right decisions. So sleep for eight hours and exercise. No need to run a marathon on day one, start small and make it a daily habit, slowly increasing intensity. Something as simple will make a ton of difference for your mood and productivity and will keep your head clear.
Another big part of keeping up is having realistic expectations. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to make mistakes. Don’t compare yourself and your company to others. Many people out there are just doing an excellent job of looking successful so don’t let this fake success make you feel bad. If your standards for yourself are too high, it would be hard to relax, which is necessary if you want to avoid burnout.
Remember that there’s always someone who doesn’t like what you’re doing and accept that. There’s that guy who will take a glance at you and your company and will immediately tell you how you really should do everything. But you must know why you’re doing your thing and deep inside you must be confident that you’re doing it right.
Hire a dream team
The fact that you’re a solo founder doesn’t mean that you have to work alone. Quite the contrary, you need the team to back you up, it’s just you will be paying them real money instead of sharing equity. If you’re bootstrapping everything yourself then most likely you’re still working on the day job. That means that you have at least some funds to hire help. Of course, there’s a lot of types of businesses and companies, but something that worked best for me is starting on my own, finding out what works and getting first results and then hiring help to scale what I’ve learned so that at least their work pays for their salary.
That’s not a typical funded startup way, but if you’re going solo, then you’ll have a hard time raising funds anyway. VCs consider solo founders as a high-risk investment and would instead invest in a team of two or three founders with complementary skills. The only way around this is to get some traction and get early paying users. That’s the only way to impress VCs and get funding, but getting there without hiring help might be problematic.
You have to be the most enthusiastic person in the room. Trying to bring something to life is soul-crushing because most of the times the path is not clear — you have a compass, but you don’t have a map. If you’re building a company solo no one will tell you that everything is going to be fine, you have to be that kind of person for yourself. You need to understand and believe that you have the power to solve problems that will come your way. It will get easier over time, but in the beginning, it’s essential always to remind yourself how good you are.
Become a stoic
One thing that helped me is stoic philosophy. Stoicism is a philosophy originated in Ancient Greece, and it focuses on mindfulness and resilience. One specific aspect of it is understanding that the world is chaotic and we can’t control anything but our actions. This insight helped me to give up on the constant struggle of trying to control the unexpected and making sure that I’m just doing the best I can in every situation.
Another useful aspect of the philosophy is preparing for the worst-case scenario. If you have already thought through the worst possible outcome of every situation, then you are prepared and have nothing to worry about. If you know that you can deal with even the worst outcome, you suddenly realize that there’s nothing to fear and you’re safe to try new things and learn from mistakes.
Learn skills that you don’t have
One thing that all founders share is constant learning. I’m not saying that you need to learn anything you can because that will take a lifetime or that you should become a coder and code your application yourself if you’re a non-technical founder. You need to learn to understand the basics of skills that you don’t have to hire the right people and connect the dots.
For example, right now I’m learning to write because that’s a building block for marketing skill. I’m a technical person, I can quickly build an app, but I struggle with selling it. I could hire a writer, but to understand how to organize the writer’s work and how writing fits into the marketing picture I decided to learn the basics myself. Same way, if you’re non-technical, you might learn the basics of coding to understand how different pieces of software development work together. You will be able to hire a project manager and developers, but you’ll have an understanding of what they’re doing.
If you’re thinking about doing it on your own, give it a shot. You can always find a co-founder later, and it will probably be even easier after you’ve made some progress and got traction. But maybe you’ll realize that you can pull it off solo and then you’ll have more freedom to do everything how you want and be your own boss.