Do you need a co-founder?


Partnership puzzle pieces

I’ve been helping founders develop startups in Charlotte for the better part of a decade. A question I’m regularly asked by potential entrepreneurs who have an idea: “Do I need a co-founder?” In classic lawyer fashion, my answer is that it depends. It depends on a wide variety of factors, but here’s a few of the biggest ones:

What’s your experience?

Specifically, is this your first time launching a startup? Or are you a serial entrepreneur? A more experienced entrepreneur will know how to navigate all the “business of running a business” aspects which can prove overwhelming for first-time founders.

All else equal, the more experienced the entrepreneur, the more likely that person can make it work as a solo founder.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

In today’s world, if you’re not technical but your idea centers on building a technology application, you probably need a technical co-founder. If you are technical, do you have the appetite to learn how to run the business or make the sales necessary to keep the lights on? Are you willing and able to hire and build a team that complements your relative strengths and weaknesses? Are you a big picture or a details person?

You should map out what your strengths and weaknesses are compared to what it will take for your startup to be successful. If there are gaps between what you’re good at and what your company needs, you’ve got to either bring on a co-founder or hire rockstars to fill those gaps.

What is your value system?

Specifically, what are the relative values you place on autonomy vs. the camaraderie of building something with a team? Obviously, if you are a solo founder, you get to make all the decisions. You decide on all matters of strategy, tactics, and culture. On the other hand, if you have a co-founder, you have someone in the trenches with whom you can share the burden. Building a company with a co-founder (or co-founders) is still incredibly difficult and you will wear many hats. Building a company solo means you wear ALL the hats, ALL the time. Some people thrive in that particular crucible while others do not.

Do co-founders make you more successful?

The data shows that you can be successful either way – Haje Jan Kamps conducted a study examining successful startups (which he defines as Companies that raised more than $10M in funding). Almost half were solo founder companies, so obviously it can be done. Of course, this data only examines winners so the results may suffer from selection bias.

Regardless, the decision for whether to bring on a co-founder should be individualized and deeply personal: the key is to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself whether bringing on a co-founder gives your idea a better chance of success.

Whether you take that next step with or without a co-founder, Spengler & Agans can help your startup.

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