Ah!? The question that is evidently fluttering around almost all of our client’s conscience if we were to base it on the sheer frequency we hear this question leave their lips.
In short: Yes, you do! And before I hear the Elon Musk solo founder argument, he once said that starting a company is like ‘chewing on glass and staring into the abyss’. Perhaps it would have been a more enjoyable ride (or drive?), had he taken on a co-founder.
So let’s talk about why you need a co-founder.
Complementary Skill Sets
Typically, there are two types of founders. You either have a great idea for a product but are lacking the skills to execute effectively, or you have a minimum viable product without the capabilities to take it to market. Ideally, you would have a complementary co-founder with experience in the areas you are lacking, for example marketing vs finance. Dividing responsibilities becomes both obvious and effective, with little risk of toe–stepping. Just make sure you learn enough of the other side before commencing your search for a suitable partner. It will help you with an informed opinion instead of being dazzled by a seemingly impressive resume you do not really understand.
With a co-founder comes their network, a critical resource for any budding business. Networking is an essential business development component and many business owners would jump at the opportunity to expand or even double their network. You will expose yourself to investors, mentors, potential partners, team members – not to mention new clients and opportunities. That is not to say you should take on a co-founder purely based on their LinkedIn connections over capability or experience. Just take into account who they know and how that could benefit the expansion of your business. Sometimes it really comes down to who you know…
From an investor’s perspective, a single founder business may not be worth the gamble. Most expect a business to be driven by more than one founder as it mitigates risk and (should) provide complementary skill sets, which is imperative when it comes to execution. Also, it can look like a vote of no confidence, as if you are not able to find another person willing to support your business or you lack a team player mentality. Obviously, this will set alarm bells ringing immediately. Remember, most investors want to invest in a stable team, not a one-man show.
Given that execution is everything, a lot of decisions will have to be made. Your co-founder is essential to raising money, developing a product and building a successful, scalable business. This person will understand the intricacies of the business, second only to you, so you have that perspective covered when problems arise. Two founders works because unanimity is possible, three founders can also work because of the ability to bounce ideas back and forth. Taking on a fourth founder would increase the likelihood of failure again, as if you were a solo founder. It just becomes too difficult to make decisions and increases chances of division and politics.
The Antidote to Co–Founders
There is, of course, another way, which very often is longer and harder than the co–founder path: Hire a team. If you are great at attracting amazing people AND you have the capacity and the funds, you can of course hire a team. A couple of great GM or C-level people can really fuel the business, but generally speaking it requires that you, as the founder, will drive the business commercially and make sales. Otherwise you will need a lot of funding of which most will have to come from yourself.
There are dozens of Facebook groups for startup founders and fans in every single local area. If you join and engage with one of those groups, you will most likely find interested co-founders.