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Stop Looking for a Cofounder

2024-05-14

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You don't need to find the right partner to work on your start-up with you. In fact, you might never need a partner or even any employees.

You might think otherwise, especially when authorities like Paul Graham say so. He spells out his reservations in the 'Single Founder' section of this old essay. However, I created software for eBay sellers by myself that's kept me self-employed for the last decade and given me my own perspective on partnerships or their lack thereof. Here are things to consider in addition to what PG wrote to move forward independently and with confidence on your own projects.

If you're unable to convince friends to start a business with you, PG says it's a vote of no confidence. But, what if you're like me and you don't have a lot of entrepreneurial friends? Or, maybe you do, but they don't want to work on your ideas? It doesn't really matter what your friends think of your ideas or you in regards to starting a business-the votes that count come in the form of paying customers. Since it's cheap and easy to spot faults in unproven business ideas, early votes of no confidence, even from well-meaning friends and family are standard fare. Expect and take them with a grain of salt. Some of the best companies today sounded pretty dumb on paper yesterday. Going solo

The essay goes on that building a business might be too much work for one person, but times have really changed--it was way more work than it is now. Today's full-stack engineers have replaced yesterday's sysadmins, DBAs, and webdevs altogether. Now they're homing in on sales and marketing. The cloud, frameworks like NextJS and Tailwind, and the explosion of Large Language Models, technical YouTube videos, and StackOverflow posts drive these transformations more every day. Most of these technologies weren't around when that post was written. Now, it's never been easier to get started by yourself if you're strong technically.

PG says, "...you need colleagues to brainstorm with, to talk you out of stupid decisions, and to cheer you up when things go wrong". There's no doubt collaboration can spark inspiration. Personally, I get the most out of impromptu brainstorming when I'm out to lunch or on long phone calls with technical friends. They don't necessarily have to be my business partners though. I've gotten less out of forced business meetings where busy people have other things on their minds. And, it's not at all impossible to make good business decisions on your own. You get better at it by reading good business books. Replace idle time surfing Reddit or watching TV reading books recommended by entrepreneurs you admire.

The last part of the quote above, that you need colleagues to cheer you up when things go wrong, hits home for me. When I started developing eBay software, PayPal's recurring payment system had a bug that was skimping my payouts more and more each month. It took me three months to get them to fix it, and although they ended up reimbursing me, it was stressful watching my revenues erode while my user count increased. In addition to crises, it's also hard just staying motivated sometimes. The best way to cope is to maintain low expectations and stay busy working on things you can control. Isn't it funny how productive some open source developers are with zero expectations aside from working hard? You don't have to set high bars to jump over either. Just always be working on things and trying to charge money for them.

Stop worrying you need a cofounder to get started. Starting alone doesn't preclude you from bringing partners in if and when you need to, but going in the opposite direction is messy. Also, never forget that, all else being equal, a 100% owner requires half the earning power of 50/50 partners-that gives him a huge advantage. You can do it. Keep your expectations in check, learn to leverage the technology that's replacing work people used to do, and never stop plugging away.

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