What Makes an Effective Solo Founder
In this article, I am going to argue that in order to be an effective solo founder one needs to nail two things: funding and building a support system. Let me explain.
In my previous article which went haywire on Hacker News, I pointed out that there are 4 advantages and 2 disadvantages to being a solo founder. Here we are going to focus on the disadvantages. The first is being discriminated against by investors. The second is a lack of support.
Paul Graham famously wrote in one of his blog articles that if you are a solo founder it means that you couldn’t convince your friends to join you and therefore can’t be trusted. Whether that’s true or not, discrimination towards solo founders by investors is real. Here I wanted to share my experience since I thought it could be helpful.
(a) Can you bootstrap?
I am the CEO of a startup called Panda Training. We bootstrapped it. And I love this approach. My first startup before that raised a lot of money and all of it was wasted. We didn’t realize that ramping up before you have a product-market fit is a very bad idea. Growing to 15 employees while only having client interest is a very bad idea. Bootstrapping allows you to avoid those mistakes.
Money evaporates when there is too much of it on the bank account, it’s way too easy to spend. Also, you don’t sell short and can keep a bigger slice of the company. So consider this: can you bootstrap?
(b) Smile to people at parties
I am also an advisor at another startup GrowthClub. And I am advising a solo founder. With GrowthClub, investment came unexpectedly. I called a friend of mine for advice on Panda Training. He mentioned that he noticed my new project, GrowthClub. I was super hyped to tell him about it and how everything is flying high after launch. Do you need money? - he asked. The rest is history. Make your own conclusions ;)
(c) Create hype
With GrowthClub, when we crossed the first €1K in revenue and closed our pre-seed investment, we decided to celebrate and throw a party. That’s when the GrowthClub founder’s friend approached me at the party and asked if we need money. Yeah…
The entrepreneurial journey is tough. By Elon Musk's account "running a startup is like chewing glass and staring into the abyss". I think that building an easily accessible support system, e.g. online, is essential for every solo founder.
I built an online support system for myself on GrowthClub. GrowthClub is a community of founders with an average of $5K+ MRR where founders exchange growth hacks and build genuine connections in 1-on-1 video calls. I first joined as a member and only later became an advisor for the company. Here is why I think it worked for me:
(a) For certain things advisors suck, employees too
On GrowthClub, I’ve met fellow founders. To me, peers are the best mentors. Advisors aren’t gonna be 100% honest with you. Neither will your employees. More than that, in some ways I found it even better than talking to my own co-founders from Panda Training. Even among founders, there is a hierarchy. Someone is the CEO, someone has more shares. You might think it doesn’t matter, but it does. Also, GrowthClub provided me a huge diversity of opinions that I could never get in my own small team.
(b) Being helpful
Might sound cheesy, but I really enjoyed being helpful to other people, too. And in rough times of your startup rollercoaster, it can be good to know you are not a fraud, by helping others and realizing your value this way. Also, teaching things to others is the fastest way to learn.
(c) Access to expertise and silent knowledge
Don’t know about you, but I prefer to learn from people rather than books, courses or whatnot. People can reveal to you the ‘silent knowledge’ that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. It is practical, based on experience, and is gained by exercise and training. They can also offer a wealth of nuance in their advice which the book that speaks to 7 billion people might not.
Hopefully, my experience with funding gave you some inspiration. As for the online support system, if you haven’t created one yet, join us at GrowthClub in building a Silicon Valley in the cloud!
Thanks for sticking till the end! I am a hands-on advisor at GrowthClub. GrowthClub is a community of founders with $5K+ MRR where founders exchange growth hacks and build genuine connections in 1-on-1 video calls.
I started with GrowthClub as a user. I liked it so much that I ended up helping the founder. Currently, after experiencing a great inflow of founders from our launch on Product Hunt and Indie Hackers featured article, we are signing up 50 hand-picked founders to form the core of our platform to actively iterate the product with them.