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Hello, and happy Monday.
I was recently coaching a solo founder/entrepreneur and noticed something that should be obvious, but isn’t: how deeply we commit to our projects determines our probability of success.
Therefore, unless you have superhuman levels of self-motivation, you should probably find a co-founder to maximize your chances of business success.
Warning: what I’m about to say puts solo founders on blast. If you’re a solo founder and disagree with me, please call me out on it—give me the alternative view! I’d love to engage in healthy constructive debate.
This solo founder (who shall remain anonymous, despite giving me permission to write about them) demonstrated a pattern of jumping into projects and then not committing to them in the long-term.
They have many great ideas, and can generate double-digit ideas on a weekly basis, but can’t commit to executing.
They find one or more of the following reasons to give up:
The idea works well for some time and even gains initial traction. There is product-market fit.
But something about the idea—that it must be worked on, for X hours a week, with no apparent end in sight—feels untenable to the founder. They sense that they would need to sustain the project for an indeterminate amount of time, and that’s not sexy. They cut the project loose.
I’m hesitant to call this “boredom,” because it’s not purely malaise but an inability to scale the idea. Perhaps “tired of doing it” coupled with “is there all there is to it?” is a more apt description.
Since the solo founder is just debating themselves, it’s fairly easy to talk oneself into quitting.
2. Incongruence with expected timelines or milestones
It doesn’t match what they expect a project of that nature should take to hit traction.
The should timeframe is a subjective concept, but startup media narratives don’t do us any favors. Every week, it’s “startup X raised $100 billion” or “startup Y made this person a millionaire.” The glorification of startup culture and apparent overnight success (ha, ha!) shapes perception.
Typically, this leads to frustration coupled with the desire to try another idea, because the grass is greener on the other side.
Incongruence applies to milestones and targets, too. The solo founder told me X% conversion on the pilot project was “poor.” I had experience in a similar field and pushed back: “X% is not poor; it’s fucking great.”
There isn’t anyone to give them a different expectation, or to even persuade them to a different outlook.
3. Lack of passion or skin in the game
Described less charitably: extreme opportunism with no grounding as to why they wanted to execute the project in the first place.
Doing it purely for the addressable market without the human element, or passion, to sustain.
Opportunism is not necessarily bad. It’s not a dirty word.
Serial entrepreneurs see what’s worth tackling in the market, go launch a product in that market, sell the product, sell the company, and then start something else.
For strong entrepreneurs, that process is a fun game. The success narrative feeds the urge for entrepreneurs to find opportunities.
But opportunism with no designed latching of commitment is bad for the average-Joe entrepreneur.
What is “commitment-latching”?
When you’re a solo founder, you don’t have other partners to motivate you on the bad days that you feel like quitting.
When you’re a solo founder, you can easily surround yourself with family and friends who don’t know what you’re going through—because they’re not in it—and take everything you do as a Good Thing.
“Yeah James, you should keep doing it. I think your instincts are spot-on.”
“Yeah man, you’re totally right—that business is NOT worth pursuing. I totally agree with you that you should quit.”
People try to be nice, and people just don’t care. But you need to hear the truth from people who do care. And that person is your co-founder, or co-founders.
When you’re a solo founder, you feed yourself bullshit and your friends reinforce your ideas.
If you have extremely strong drive and self-belief, then forget this article. It will sustain for you, because you’re unusually confident.
Extreme confidence is a natural trait, and people will find you obnoxious, but it’s a great quality to have for entrepreneurship.
To paraphrase Jeff Bezos, you can accept being misunderstood for long periods of time.
But Bezos also designed commitment-latching—the people—into Amazon’s endeavors. He was accountable to his staff, stakeholders, and shareholders—the whole nine yards.
There’s something there that tethers successful entrepreneurs to projects, and solo founders have none of that.
The real problem with solo founders who waffle between projects—similar to employed people who change jobs every two years (yeah, you know THAT person)—is that they’re chasing a win or high without the right people to put some sense into them.
Many of them have not encountered that win, so they need to keep chasing. Keep reinventing. Keep hustling.
To put it incredibly uncharitably, ineffective solo founders think they can copy the methods of success and then achieve success.
They don’t want to commit, and it feels better to rationalize quitting quickly, in the matter of a few weeks or months.
And guess what? The majority of founders are ineffective. Law of averages.
Solo founders enter a trap where they lack conviction. And if you can’t convince at least one other person of your convictions, then you’re probably screwed in the first place.
If you think the problems above are not worth the trouble of finding a co-founder, then you’re probably ALSO screwed in the first place.
There are no absolutes. But speaking from my personal experience and lens:
Don’t be a solo founder, unless you like to fail.
Take care of yourself, and be well.
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