How I Failed My Startup & Tactical Advice So You Don’t Fail Yours (1 of 4)

Reason #1: I didn’t prioritize seeking a co-founder

I recently failed a startup that I worked on for over a year. It wasn’t an “I raised $5M, built a team, launched a product, and got bought for less than fair market value” failure either. I failed to raise $1, failed to build a team beyond myself, and failed to launch the product.

The five terrible reasons I didn’t prioritize seeking a co-founder were:

  1. Advice is always to “partner with someone you know well,” but I didn’t have a personal relationship with a single software developer before starting a software business.
  2. I had a marketing background and didn’t think that any developer would be willing to partner with a “marketing guy.”
  3. I didn’t believe in myself enough to convince others. I kept telling myself, “if I just build this next portion of the app, I can bring that to a potential co-founder and show her, then she’ll realize I’m legit.”
  4. Because I chose to work on it full-time, I wanted someone else who did too.
  5. I thought that seeking a co-founder would slow the process down.

Why I should have prioritized seeking a co-founder:

1. Accelerators and investors are far more likely to take a risk on two cheap human laborers than one.

Investors don’t say it like that, and a study showed that solo founders are more likely to succeed than co-founders, but it’s the reality for first-time founders. Founders generally take much smaller (or nonexistent) salaries than they would get on the open market, and it makes economic sense to get more cheap, talented labor than less.

2. I was a reckless optimist in need of a grounding force.

Nine times a day, I’ll have a “brilliant idea.” These “brilliant ideas” are often economically infeasible, physical impossibilities, or, the pitfall of all pitfalls, possible but time-consuming to achieve. Having a co-founder clarify that my most recent “brilliant idea” was a flaming trash fire in disguise would have saved countless hours.

3. The work would go twice as fast.

If I spent six months doing nothing but seeking a co-founder, we would have gotten as much done as I did in twelve months solo.

4. I could build on the skills I had rather than becoming a jack-of-all-trades.

Instead of finding a co-founder, I decided to teach myself to code. Although I am proud to call myself a “full-stack developer” (primarily Swift, Typescript, and React), I turned into a AAA minor-league marketer with a single A-level of software development skills instead of an All-star in the big leagues-level marketer.

5. Double the connections.

When you start a business, you need to pull on every lever you’ve got. Connections are not underrated in the startup world, and partnering with a co-founder is equivalent to pressing a button to double the pool of expertise you can tactically inject into your business for free.

6. Emotional support.

I consider myself emotionally resilient, but when people said that starting a company has its ups and downs, the reckless optimist in me significantly underrated the ups and downs. For each day that I believe that the startup would dramatically improve lives and our society, there was a day where I thought that I was building a useless hunk of code.

Tactical advice for seeking a co-founder

1. Talk about your mission with prospective co-founder(s), not your idea or vision.

I bet that there are way more people out there who share your beliefs than there are who think that your idea is brilliant. By starting with your mission, you can find common ground with potential co-founders and work together on a solution rather than an idea/worker relationship.

2. If you’ve already started, set up a check-in with another solo founder.

Chances are there’s another individual out there working on a business alone, but together you would move faster, yet neither of you is ready to give up on your ideas. First, you ignored the first tactical suggestion: be mission-driven, not idea-driven. Second, I get it; this is exactly what I did.

3. Be comfortable saying you are good at skills you are actually good at.

In my work experience, the difference between good writers and bad ones is that one says they’re a good writer, and the other says they’re a bad writer: in other words, perception of some skillsets has a lot to with how you present it. Of course, there are legitimately bad writers, I’ve seen plenty, but I’ve also seen a host of fantastic writers that, for some reason, have bucketed themselves as “poor writers.” The point is that it’s ok to say that you’re good at something to your potential co-founder. You don’t need to be cocky about it; the people you want to work with will see through B.S., but it’s ok to be comfortable saying it.

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Mike Chirokas

Mike Chirokas

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I'm a marketer, developer, and tinkerer who recently failed a startup. Here to tell my story so you don't make the same mistakes I made.