How to launch a startup without a co-founder
These are the four areas you have to know about if you are planning to launch a startup without a co-founder.
- Idea Quality Check
- Early Feedback
- Vicarious Experience
- Loose Partnerships
If Startup Gods had granted me a choice between a good co-founder and a good business idea, I would chose the good co-founder in a heartbeat. Still, sometimes you have to launch a startup without a co-founder. Startups are the change engines of the world, and it is well worth the effort. Even if you don’t succeed in building a unicorn, you will emerge with personal and professional growth.
A partner is an irreplaceable resource that has the potential to increase the quality of your decisions, your problem solving capacity, business acumen and design sophistication in all areas of your venture. A bad partner is not just none of the above, it is so much worse than that. The destructive potential of a bad partners cannot be overemphasized. They will pull the business in the opposite direction and create a zero-sum game. They will devalue user/customer feedback. They will be unappreciative of your effort. They will be a resistance in times that require change. They won’t believe in the mission and will surround you and themselves with toxic people, literally making it impossible to reach any of your milestones and succeed. In the best case, this type of partnership has a life-span equal to your patience. So clearly, a good partner can greatly increase the odds of success for your startup, however, there are times when finding that ideal partner is next to impossible, and you have to launch a startup without a co-founder.
Here are the Four Areas You Need to Pay Extra Attention to when you are building the business alone.
One: Idea Quality Check
Partners are usually honest critiques. Because they are going to invest their own time and other valuable resources in the pursuit of turning that idea into a reality, they will listen closely and try to establish whether or not it all holds together. Without a partner, the solo entrepreneur is at a disadvantage when it comes to having a critical audience – someone who will not just say it’s a “great idea” out of politeness, but listen critically and make smart comments to improve it.
This is why, if you are going to work solo, you need to pay extra attention to making sure your idea is heard by people with qualifications, experience and intelligence. Many people use their circle of family and close friends as their “sounding board”. This can work, but it less than ideal because these people are emotionally invested in you and your life choices. It is entirely possible that they think entrepreneurial life is too risky for you, or think you will not go through with building your idea. These thoughts and feelings will impart their judgement and comments.
So the best choice for “idea quality check” is your secondary circle of friends and colleagues. I’ve found these people are more likely to listen to what you are telling objectively, challenge you better and warn you of the dangers; while not shooting your motivation to pursuit your idea down.
Two: Early Feedback
In a partnership, the product, business model or the design that is produced is the work of at least two parties. Basic human psychology comes into play here. It is much harder to find holes and gaps in something that is either entirely or mostly your own production. Early customer feedback on the prototypes of your products, services or business models is always important. But if you are solo, they gain such a crucial importance, I can’t emphasize that enough. You have to collected feedback more often, listen more closely and react more quickly to stay on top of your game.
Three: Vicarious Experience
Because you will be working with at least half the know-how, half the time resource and will need to figure out the answers to complex problems on your own, learning from the experience of others and building up a huge ‘mental library of best startup practices’ is critical. Gaining vicarious experience first includes collecting the know-how and expertise of the people you know who have commercial, technological, people, design and business insight. This means trying getting face to face time with these people you know; first for general advice and then for asking high quality questions about the type of your planned venture.
The second part of gaining vicarious experience includes reading books on startups and building a business; listening to industry leader podcasts and watching all high quality material on the topic obsessively. Find the opinion leaders in your field and treat them as your mentors.
Four: Loose Partnerships
Even if you work without a partner, you will still be in touch with a lot of people including but not limited to clients; investors; vendors; freelancers; beta-testers; focus groups or other types of collaborators.
To be successful in launching a startup without a co-founder, you need to manage your relationship with each of these parties with finesse, and learn from them. If you also manage to earn their respect and liking, that will work in your favor in quite indirect and unforeseeable ways.
Big ideas are only turned into reality by strong collaborations between people or organizations. If you are a solo entrepreneur or founder, you have to be great at making deals that create win – win situations and make these deals even stronger by investing in people, gaining trust and building rapport.
Think of this like going to risky hiking trip all alone. You have no chance, but to be much better prepared.
This was the four key areas to watch out for to launch a startup without a co-founder. In the next part in this series, I am going to share the 8 universal qualities you should watch for to increase the chances of picking a good partner.
Bookmark this page to make sure you don’t miss it. Good luck and see you on the next one!
PS: Some of these points have been mentioned in great detail in Startups Grow With People: How to Pick Partners, Recruit the Top Talent and Build a Company Culture