So, at first glance the article above looks like bad news. I’m a lone wolf founder and I’m trying to start my company in Memphis, TN, of all places! But, I’m not so sure I buy the hype. Maybe it’s my denial working, but I’d like to think it’s something more.
First off, I think that the “lone founders don’t work” idea is a bit of a myth. I think a lot of startups are founded by one guy–one guy with the charisma or the vision or the moxy–and, possibly, a team of “founding employees.” There’s usually a dominant personality, and then a team of people around him to give him ideas, play devil’s advocate, and help him in areas where he doesn’t have specific expertise. We mostly hear of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, and even, ironically, Paul Graham, rather than their teams. Sure, there are the Larry and Sergey’s and the Ev and Biz’s (award for best founding team names) of the world, but the single names show up just a frequently, if not more so. So I’m a lone founder, but I have a team. They’re just not founding the company with me.
I’ve got a web design buddy to bounce wireframes and design ideas off of. My wife and several of her friends are graphic designer/artist types, and I bounce logos and all the art off them. My buddies Trey, Scott, and Joseph are business guys, and I bounce the business piece of them. And of course there’s the greater community of hackers and developers who help with all of the back end stuff. All of these folks’ advice has been great, and if I make millions one day they’ll certainly get a reward for the help they provided in the early days, but that’s it. They’re not co-founders.
A co-founder is a lot like a wife, and a partnership is a lot like a marriage. I’m sure you’ve heard that analogy before, but my twist is to say that if you’re not in it all the way then you shouldn’t be in it at all. Try dating instead.
The most important thing about co-founders is passion, and more specifically sustained passion. If passion about the project isn’t there from the start and doesn’t continue through the rough and boring stuff, then it won’t work.
I found this out the hard way with Kufikia. I was excited about the company–I taught high school for three years and was able to see first hand the positive effect of praising students. I really felt like we were spending all this money on education when most of it was for nothing if we didn’t get the kids actually interested in school. I was fired up. My partners were passionate too, but they were passionate about the idea of being a part of a startup. The idea wasn’t really their thing–they were private school educated and, for the most part, hadn’t seen how bad public school education really is. They weren’t carrying the torch. So my passion remained strong, but when the initial excitement about being a part of a startup waned, so did their passion in the company.
So the Work for Pie project is the same thing. I live for startups and entrepreneurship. I’m the biggest fanboy out there. I devour books, listen to every episode of This Week in Startups, and spend hours on Techcrunch and Hacker News. So yes, I’m excited about working on a startup, but what really gets me going is the chance to work on THIS startup. My “advisors” are happy for me. They like the idea and they know I have what it takes to pull it off and they give me some great advice. But they’re not like me. They could care less about startups or entrepreneurship. They spend their free time duck hunting or playing golf or going to Zumba classes. They have no idea who Paul Graham is. So they’re not co-founder material.
So, for now, I’m a single founder. I’m sure at some point–perhaps as I start to get a little more public about what I’m doing, that will change and I’ll find someone who is as passionate about the project as I am. Until that point, however, I’ll just have to get used to less sleep.