No man is an island

Original author: Ryan Carson
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If you are a talented engineer, programmer and dream of your own company, project, independence - you will need a crazy dose of determination to start. This is a difficult step - to leave a warm place in the office and a stable salary and step “nowhere”. “With a friend” this step is easier to make, one is always worse. If the only thing stopping you is the lack of a “friend,” then here's a kick: an article from Ryan Carson, creator of the Treehouse online school .

It will be difficult, but if you really need a cofounder in the project, you can always find it (or hire) later ...

And also: take care of your friends, because a startup is like a marriage - if your relationship with your cofounder deteriorates because of “ who will wash up,who has more stock, who does all the dirty work ”, you lose a friend.

Translation completed by Alconost . So, the article ...

Among startups today it is considered to be a prerequisite for a successful project to have a co-founder. Judging from my experience, this is not at all true.

That you need a co-founder, Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham said in his essay “ The 18 Mistakes that Kill Startups ” in 2006:

“Have you ever noticed how few successful were startups founded by just one person? Even those companies that you thought they were founded by someone alone, such as Oracle, for example, usually have more than one founder. And that doesn't seem like a coincidence.

What is wrong with sole founder startups? To begin with, this is a vote of no confidence. Most likely, this means that the founder could not convince any of his friends to start a joint business. And this is a very alarming sign, because friends know this person better than others.

But even if all the founder’s friends are mistaken, and his company is very promising, he is still at a disadvantage. Starting a startup is too complicated for one person. Even if you can do all the work yourself, you still need colleagues to brainstorm or dissuade you from stupid decisions, and also to support you in those moments when things are going very badly.

The last, perhaps the most important. The black bars in startups are so black that few can outlive them alone. If there are several co-founders, the team spirit is able to unite them in an incredible way, almost breaking the conservation laws. Each of them thinks: “I can’t let my friends down.” This is one of the most powerful forces of human nature - and it does not work if there is only one founder. ”

Paul repeated his thesis in a post for HackerNews and this essay .

David Cohen, the head of another TechStars techno-incubator, said the same thing in 2010, answering the question: “What are the chances of the sole founder to be accepted into the TechStars program?”:

“The odds are slim. We did this in two or three cases out of 70 companies selected by us. If there is a strong team around a single founder, then a positive decision is much more likely. If this is really the only one person, then in TechStars he obviously does not belong. The amount of work to be done in a short period is too large for one person. ” [ Source ]


It seems to me that Paul and David emphasize the importance of co-founding because they mainly talk about young founders without any business experience. It is also important to remember that they are investors who provide the maximum return on their investments. And if they say that you, as the sole founder, have little chance of joining Y Combinator or TechStars, this does not mean that you need a co-founder for the success of your startup.

My experience

Praise fate, I succeeded as the sole founder of Treehouse startup. In just two years, we have grown from three to 54 people and from $ 0 to $ 3.4 million in revenue. I financed this business with the money earned by my previous business, and grew it to profitability, and then decided to attract another $ 600 thousand of investments to accelerate development. I did not ask any of my friends or acquaintances to be co-founders.

And that's why I, as the sole founder, succeeded:

1. More ownership and control

To date, we have raised more than $ 5 million in investments in Treehouse, and I still own almost 70% of the company. In addition, I control the board. If I had a co-founder, I would probably own only half of what I have today, and I would not have full control over the board. Ownership and control are two extremely important things, while launching a startup with co-founders immediately deprives you of the possibility of sole control and reduces your share in the business.

2. Strong leadership

I am convinced that the most successful founders are those who personally manage their companies. Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are excellent examples.

As long as the founders and managers are able to adapt to the needs of their team changing as the company grows, no one can lead the ship to the goal better than them. But as soon as they lose control of the board, I'm afraid the ship may go astray.

For the same reason, I never wanted to make Treehouse public. I hate the thought of the need to respond to external investors who do not understand our daily difficulties and opportunities. In addition, they do not share the crazy passion that I have for business.

3. One life goal

I personally observed the collapse of two startups due to the conflict of life goals of the co-founders. Each of them had his own plan and his own vision of success. Here are the main points on which the opinions of the co-founders can radically differ:

  • Payment - When do we start paying ourselves and how much?
  • Work schedule - How many hours per week do we work? What if one of the founders works harder / more than the others?
  • Liquidity - What if a buyer appears who offers $ 1 million for your company, but one of the co-founders wants to wait a couple more years to sell it for $ 10 million?
  • Power - Who is considered the leader in the company? What if a conflict arises between the co-founders?
  • Location - What if one of the co-founders is pressured by his or her partner to relocate or change life circumstances?

Creating a company with co-founders is like getting married. We are talking about incredibly serious obligations, but people blindly go for it in the hope that everything will work out somehow.

4. Grow leaders inside

I gave Alan Johnson, our first developer, great authority so that we can effectively manage the business of the company. His role is similar to the role of CTO.

Why did I do this, remaining ardently convinced that I did not need a co-founder? You know, because it is really very difficult to manage a company alone for a long time. Daily feedback from a knowledgeable and trustworthy colleague is worth a lot. This person should know everything about business so that you can share your worst fears and concerns with him. This person should also feel comfortable if he does not agree with you, and know that he can calmly tell you about it.

I promoted Alan to this position after we worked together for more than a year. I had time to watch how it works and make sure that our styles, life goals and personalities are compatible. With the increase, he increased his share in the business, so the situation was very favorable for him, too.


My experience shows that the sole founder can be optimal for a startup. Therefore, one should not blindly follow the industry-wide belief that success requires co-founders.

About the translator

Translation of the article was done in Alconost.

Alconost localizes applications, games and sites in 60 languages. Native-language translators, linguistic testing, cloud platform with API, continuous localization, project managers 24/7, any format of string resources.

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