The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Solo Founder

Building a successful startup is about going slowly until you need to go very, very fast.

Founders often want to move fast too early, before they achieve problem/solution fit, then subsequently move too slowly after they’ve validated product/market fit. This all boils down to confidence — overconfidence early and under-confidence later.

Overconfidence shows up as a desire to build software and ramp up sales before verifying a meaningful problem in an accessible market. It’s believing so strongly in your idea that you start building a solution before you talk to any prospects. Under-confidence shows up as an unwillingness to commit to a single market or business model, or fully launching, despite having strong data. It’s refusing to burn the bridges and forget about Plan B.

I’ve been coaching startups full-time for two years now (and advising for nearly 15 years prior), and this confidence mismatch is especially acute in solo founders. Without a partner to lean on, the solo founder gets emotionally buffeted by every piece of feedback, whether positive or negative. And every piece of business advice has the potential to upend a strategy simply by being the most recent idea in the stack. In both cases, the lack of a consistent foil results in an untethered entrepreneur — too confident too soon and not confident enough when called for.

And this is borne out in the investment data. Solo founders raise less money and less often because angels and VCs know that those investments are riskier. Unpartnered entrepreneurs take far longer to find success, should they find success at all.

I’ve been thinking about this for the last year because half my coaching clients are solo founders. It’s fucking hard to start any company, but it’s immeasurably harder when you don’t have anyone you can truly rely on day-in and day-out for stability. Weekly coaching sessions seems like a perfectly reasonable cadence until you realize just how many small decisions can be made in 168 hours and how they add up.

I’m glad to share that I’ll be launching one potential solution in January as an extension of my core coaching practice. And I’m hopeful that in the years to come, it solidifies as a new way of supporting founders, with hundreds of advisors, mentors and coaches following suit.

Can’t wait to share more in a few weeks!

— Eric Marcoullier

(Photo by me!)

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