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April 30, 2015

The Emotional Co-Founder

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There is a bias against solo founders in Startup Land. The conventional wisdom is that being an entrepreneur is so difficult that you shouldn't embark on it alone. Many of the top accelerators, like Techstars and Y Combinator, won't accept founding teams that have solo founders. Jessica Livingston, the lesser-known co-founder of Y Combinator, put it well in a Wall Street Journal article a few years ago:

“We believe being a single founder is one factor that makes it more difficult to succeed… [because] there is just so much to do at a startup. Also, the moral weight of starting a company can be very hard to bear alone.”

I was at an entrepreneur event the other night talking with a friend (Mark Lurie of Lofty) who is a solo founder. He coined a phrase that I love, and so will repeat here (with his permission), which is that having a co-founder to help get stuff done (the first part of Jessica's statement) is less important than her second point:  having, in effect, an emotional co-founder.

The emotional co-founder may or may not be in the company - in fact it can be better if they're not - but they are the sounding board, therapist and support system that the founder needs to get through all the painful ups and downs.

The emotional co-founder can be a spouse, a classmate, a best friend, even an investor if there is a high degree of trust (usually established with one of the earliest investor - i.e., one of the leads behind the seed round or the Series A). One of my portfolio company founders lives with his co-founder and the two serve as very strong emotional co-founders for each other. Admittedly, that's a little extreme.

But if you find yourself a solo founder, don't despair. Just make sure you find an emotional co-founder to help you get through the roller coaster ride.


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