If you have been following the Silicon Valley culture of how to build a successful and scalable tech company, the “emphasis” of having a co-founder is at the core and forefront of almost all decisions or every door.
Well, there are infinite reasons for such prerequisites. Today, diving deeper into the world's most renowned products and solutions; the evidence is in plain sight. Arguably making these processes the most important part of starting a company. It is important to distinguish between — for lack of a better word a programmer, an indie hacker, a serial entrepreneur, and someone with domain expertise(Non-technical). However, entirely possible to do well in at least two or three.
Firstly, I honestly did not know the psychology behind such strict requirements, let alone how to start a startup. Even, now I cannot claim I know how to build a successful tech business, but because of curiosity I deliberately took the red pill. As many might be aware, we are living in a digital age, and if you don’t understand your goal, what your looking for, or what information is relevant and important the red pill can lead you astray. So it’s important to come back, asses, or even self-critic yourself; weakness and strengths to find better methods of learning that can benefit you to become a better person.
One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to. — Elon Musk
Speaking of Elon, he’s not a solo founder. But very good at hiring.
Why mention all these?. Because that was the beginning of a new path. A path that questioned my then comfort zone, that led me to find confidence in doing and talking about extraordinary things I had zero knowledge about, I am still learning even today.
Everyone has a path, your future Co-founder, teams, and even the ideas in our head— to get validated and brought to market, requires clear-sober roadmaps.
Because I never looked back and the journey was soo good, I kept going and found myself at the gates of YC a totally different, but attractive kingdom to pass by, without any maximum visible security.
And at these moments and time, I am grateful to have taken that turn, I still appreciate the warm welcome with an abundance of resources that literally shaped and benefited my initial decision to leave my stealth comfortable zones. To even understand the benefits of having a Co-founder when building a business(especially technology products and solutions)
So why should you have a co-founder at all?
While many may argue that you don’t “need a co-founder” and by just building the product yourself, gain traction, passionate team members will most likely find you. Still true, if you hang out with Indie Hackers, the results are written all over the pixel walls.
However, for Non-technical and others lacking various domains or specific knowledge it may not be the case.
According to Harj Taggar, YC Partner it boils down to three simple, but important reasons.
I will quote and transcript them below:
“You can get a lot more work done if you have someone to divide the work up with. And you can get much better work done if you have a co-founder who maybe has complementary skills, so they can do things that you can’t. And there’s someone you enjoy discussing ideas with. So you can brainstorm and come up with better ideas than you could alone, or have someone to talk you out of potentially bad ideas. So you get a lot of uplift in just the amount and quality of work you can do with a co-founder.”
2. Moral Support
“Startups are an incredibly intense and taxing journey. And it’s great to have someone you can lean on for support during the tough times. And what I’ve noticed about the best co-founder relationships is they have this dynamic where both co-founders kind of balance each other out. So if one founder is having a bad day, they’re feeling a little down, despondent, and they’ve become a little pessimistic and feel like the startup is about to die, the other co-founder can just help bring them up a little bit, and keep them going and keep them motivated. And vice versa. Sometimes you get too carried away, you sign a customer and you think you’re guaranteed the IPO. And you can use someone to just ground you and bring you back to reality a little bit. And so that’s where I kind of find the best co-founding relationships can help kind of even out some of the highs and lows of the emotional rollercoaster that is a startup.
And while you can get some sort of productivity increased by hiring people or bringing your own contractors, you don’t get that same emotional support that you do from a co-founder. Because ultimately, anyone who’s working for you, you’re the boss, and they’re not as invested in the success of the startup as you are. And you can’t really be as open or honest with them about the company as you can be with a peer. And that’s what you get from a co-founder.”
3. Pattern Matching to Success
“Okay, so hopefully, I’ve convinced you that you really do want a co-founder when you’re starting a company. But what if you’re really keen to get started in a company right now, and you don’t have a co-founder that immediately available or someone that you can bring onboard? Should you wait to get a great co-founder before you start a company? Or should you just go ahead and get started? Well, I think the default answer is that you should wait because of all the reasons I just mentioned, all the benefits that you get from having a co-founder. But Y Combinator has funded single founders, and we have done so successfully. So I’ve noticed that there are some exceptions to this rule and they tend to follow a particular pattern. And that pattern is that the single founders, those who start a company by themselves, have sort of two things that are true.
So one is they have an idea that they have incredibly high conviction about either because they’re solving a personal problem for themselves. So there really no solution is necessary. Or they’re a domain expert, they’re working in a field where they know for sure the sort of technology that’s missing, where the customers might be. So there’s all of that because they have such conviction in the idea that they don’t need a co-founder to convince them that this is a good idea to get started on. They’re ready to go.
The second condition is that those single founders are able to make progress on that idea without a co-founder, in a short time at least. And that almost always means that they’re technical, or at least technical enough to be able to build the first version of the product so they can show it to potential investors, or maybe even to potential co-founders who may want to join the company. And that second point is something I’ve noticed that the best single founders are also able to do is not only are they tremendously productive in building product and talking to users themselves, they’re also able to run a great background search for co-founders and keep their eyes open. And if the opportunity arises, bring on a great co-founder. And I think the best example I can think of here would be Drew Houston of Dropbox.
So Drew applied Y Combinator way, way back now, in 2007. He had a really solid idea for building Dropbox because he’d already felt the pain of losing his own files. So he knew for sure, there was a better solution to build. But he didn’t have a co-founder. And so Paul Graham, the Y Combinator founder, messaged him back saying, “We love your application, you’re great, the idea’s great, but we really won’t fund you without a co-founder. So come back to us when we have one.” And Drew kind of went away continued building the Dropbox prototype, while also looking for co-founders and found Arusha, who would be later the Dropbox CTO and his co-founder. And he applied again, and [inaudible 00:06:34] And now Dropbox is obviously a tremendously successful company.
So that’s kind of what I’d ask you to bear in mind is, if you’re really keen to get a startup right now, but you don’t have a co-founder, ask yourself like, do you have absolute high conviction in this idea, you know sure that this is the idea that we want to work on? There are no other ideas that you’d be open to? And can you really make progress without having a co-founder? And if those things are true, sure. Go ahead and give it a shot. But if not, I’d really suggest you wait until you do have a co-founder to start a company.
So when you’re thinking about bringing on a co-founder, what should you be looking for in them? Well, I actually think the single most important thing to know about someone before you start a company with them is how do they handle stress. Sort of second most important is how well are they going to help you handle stress. And the reason I say that is startups are very incredibly stressful, intense experiences, as I mentioned before. And a great co-founder should be able to support you through those and help you through those. Because if you’re determined and motivated, enjoy working together, you’ll keep working on this startup for a long period of time. And that’s usually what it takes to build a really successful company. So you really don’t want to start a company with someone that you don’t know particularly well. Because even if you’ve spent time with them in social events, or you hung out together a little bit, you don’t really have insight into how they’re going to respond to pressure and stress. And are they someone that’s going to stick around when things are tough? And are they someone that’s going to help you want to stick around when things are tough?
So the best people to start companies with are always people that you’ve got some sort of personal experiences, where you kind of know the character and how they’re going to respond to those tough situations. And that usually means there’s someone, a close friend, or someone that you’ve worked with, under stressful conditions. So I’d certainly recommend that you be on the lookout and think about that when you’re considering co-founders. The second thing I think you really want to look for is understanding the goals and values someone has for starting a company or wanting to do a startup. And honestly, I think when I was younger, I used to think of some goals and values as being sort of fuzzy terms. I didn’t need them too much. But over time, I realized, really what they mean is understanding the motivations someone has for doing what they do. And in this context, I think it’s really important to talk with someone, even if you know them very well, about why they want to do a startup, what are they hoping for? And the kinds of things that can come out are avoiding conflicting goals, right.
So for example, let’s say that you really want to build a high-growth, high-intensity, high-risk startup and you want to push forward, you want to raise venture capital, you want to hire a bunch of people, you want to just really go for it. And your goal is to take the company public and you’re okay kind of taking lots of risks along the way to get that. That’s a totally fine set of motivations, it’s a very common set of motivations for startup founders. But let’s say your co-founder prefers to take kind of a slow and steady approach. Maybe they’re more motivated by building great software for a small group of people. And they will be totally fine if you just made enough revenue to pay yourselves good salaries and just grew a little bit every year. That’s also a completely fine set of motivations for wanting to start a company. But the two motivations there aren’t compatible with each other and they’ll lead to inevitable conflict.”
But that bar doesn't end here, the expectations also run throughout the financing of your idea.
People who will fund or believe in these ideas, “the investors” generally, tend to support companies that are run by a team than those who run solo. They trust companies with multiple founders and are likely to fund them more easily. So it is best to get a co-founder or co-founders by your side if you want to make the funding process smooth and effective.
I have nothing against being a lone-founder, when I entered the space I did a lot of projects alone. But eventually, realize the pros and cons.
The advantage of being a lone-founder is that you don’t have the catastrophic potential of falling out between founders. Because that can rip the company to shreds, due to the enormous amount of equity, power, capital structure, and moral authority with the team. As a result of each having that founder role and the same may apply to having too many founders.
If you are a Lone founder, there's often no other person that you can sit down with and tackle problems, take them through the hypothesis, someone who has precisely or nearly close precisely your alignments of interest. Your most trusted board member is likely an investor and therefore at the end of the day has an interest in preferred stock options inline, but not common stock.
Your most trusted VP, who might own a very significant stake in the company or doesn’t own anything near your stake can potentially jump ship to another company for experience, credibility, or start their own company.
You also can get a great deal, particularly if it’s somebody who has been through these very processes and had navigated successfully, also cares enough about YOU and your wellbeing. To give you beautifully unvarnished advice that will guide and benefit you.
The team (founding or hired)
Obviously, these might be a little bit different from the gene code of the founder(s). The team needs to be fully brought into the intuition and vision of the founder(s). But needs to have a slightly different way of operating, which is 99% execution obsession, relentlessly hit the milestones, the objections, and quarterly goals. demonstrating the ability and focus.
Upon discovering the platform, I instantly knew that people are way out of my league. Moving so fast with no room for destruction or at least zero-sum-games. But came back to my senses and realize my position; both geographically and professionally. As I was still wondering What’s Going On Here, I found few traces of African operators, founders, and entrepreneurs, lifting back that confidence and inspiration.
The YC Startup Directory | Y Combinator
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They had already made huge massive progress. Working and building great products and teams to tackle problems facing our continent. Again I had to take 0111 steps backward and look beyond the light, check the door that can benefit me and South African problems. That was when I took the decision to start from ZERO(Basics) not yet Zeroth and begin my YC journey from their built-in school.
It has been five months of learning, doing further research to many local markets (especially at the deep dusty ground), and enjoying every moment. I constantly try to avoid procrastination, however, I have delayed the last batch and might definitely delay the next. Why?
I had so much fun and even iterated on many ideas talking to soo many users and I believe every continent, country, or communities are different, and as much as we might think we know what products they want, yet many people may appreciate Tik Tok but our problems are BIG, complex and with fragmented infrastructures. One must aim big to build real solutions, solving real problems affecting real people.
A lot happened in the last 15 months, including possibilities to build cool stuff and get funded locally without going through platforms like YC. The same goes for their frameworks of building a successful tech business, that thinking might not work if you deal with narrow-minded teams or investors. Because, unfortunately, African markets require a massive amount of consumer education, to drive the growth of products and services. Lastly more patience and talent.
Next, I will share my progress journey and discoveries I stumbled upon talking to users, technical founders, and attempt to build solutions.