Trials of a Solo Founder

Elizabeth
4 min readFeb 24, 2022

Last week Feb 14, 2022 — I discovered 2 support systems I didn’t have previously: a project manager and a potential co-founder.

It was a week into my various projects, now supported with 2 fantastic humans not previously in the mix, that I write these reflections on being a solo founder and close this chapter.

There’s a cornucopia of biases against solo founders:

  • they can’t convince someone to work with them
  • they are less supported and therefore do less work
  • they can handle less stress
  • investors are biased against solo founders because they assume the founder can’t share their legos and doesn’t treat anyone as an equal decision making partner

As a solo founder over the past years, I’ve argued against so many of these biases.

My support systems:

  • I am very lucky to have a phenomenal partner
  • I have an incredibly supportive “work wife
  • Daily accountability with my no-code mentor

So every time an investor / friend / meeting asked “But don’t you want a co-founder?”, I’d heartily respond,

“Not really… I have a pretty tight circle of awesome supporting me.”

But I have come to understand 2 fundamental facts about MYSELF:

1. I am an ambitious overachiever that loves experimenting and falling flat on my face
2. I get energy by working fast-paced with enthusiastic experts

In view of last week, #2 became glaringly clear.

And when I accomplished far more context switches last week with my project manager (WIN!!!) and my potential co-founder reflected highly pertinent info from user interviews (WIN!!!), I was convinced.

I, Elizabeth, *really* like teams, people, external accountability, and energy from others. Previously, I’ve always been on the line of extroversion / introversion. Fun side effect of Covid perhaps? My extroversion is loving the walks in the park! I feel like I’m sprinting Day in and out.

So with this revelation, I reflect on a few facts:

  • a “cheap thought partner” is a cofounder
  • I’ve spent the past 10 months setting goals and diving deeper into accomplishing them and reflecting on WHY they’re important
  • without giving fair shot at solo founding, I never would have come to the conclusion of needing/pursuing a co-founder

My hypotheses of a Co-founder glue:

  • we work “lock and step”
  • we challenge each other
  • we feel motivated by each other’s company
  • we learn from each other
  • we think about feedback before we provide it and learn from our partner’s critique, their feelings on delivery, and our feelings on delivery (could we have been kinder or more compassionate?)
  • we build much more with our partner (and bounce back from setbacks) far easier
  • we invest time/generosity/kindness in our partner

Goal: string of successes!

As of Feb 22, 2022 — tbh I’m still unsure if my potential co-founder is set in stone. That’s a whole other lever of commitment.

But I finally am open to a co-founder.

And that’s a massive step to acknowledge.

Resources:
- Ondeck Co-founder workshops #1 & #2 by Eric Liu

UPDATE

April 17, 2022

Well, that experiment didn’t work. The person I invested a month with decided a new path was for him.

All good.

Glad I know now and not in a year with dead equity.

New framework for me: it is absolutely possible to be a fantastic solo founder, but as someone who loves people, how do I surround myself with a variety of voices / customers / support?

A few new initiatives:

  1. Customer Advisory Board
  2. Mentorship
  3. Weekly Accountability Group
  4. Executive Coach (in addition to therapy)

Movement:

#1 Asked an excellent user interview to be my first customer board member!

#2 Asked a friend / mentor for this!

#3 Mondays @ 9am! (3 weeks in and it’s life-changing)

#4 Asked a friend (and I already have therapy so 👏)

New belief: It’s definitely possible to be a solo founder.

And my super-extroverted-on-Wednesday personality means that in the past month, I’ve lined up support systems of other awesome founders and perspectives.

FAQ

Who calls you out on your BS?

My executive coach, my context switching partner, my accountability coach, my project manager.

Who picks up your 10pm call?

My accountability coach. My work wife. (and special thanks to my partner :))

Who helps you troubleshoot?

My project manager. My posts in (copious) Slack groups. My accountability coach. My SLP peers.

Who do you learn from?

My accountability group. My weekly SLP coffee w/ peers. My work wife. My therapist. My partner. Soon to be specific — My mentors. My customer advisors.

Who do you call on a long walk?

I leave a voice note for myself checking in ~1/day. I leave 2–3 voice notes for my partner. I call my family daily.

Cheers to being on speed dial of your biggest advocates,

Elizabeth

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Elizabeth

Founder @ EMO (Easy Mobile Onboarding). Product Teacher @GA. Co-founder @WomenWhoCodeNYC. Ex-software engineer @ Time Inc.