Many, many, many years ago (circa 1996), just after I graduated and started working (yes… that long ago), I had an idea, different from what I am doing now, so I gathered my 3 best pals from university and suggested the idea to them. All were excited by the idea and were fired up to start the business. Many nights, we met in a cafe after work and basically just talked and discussed about our future venture. Like many internet start-ups (who wasn’t dreaming about being a dot com then? It was dot com fever/rush), we doodled on paper napkins and planned the steps we needed to take. We talked about our visions, our hopes, our aspirations and how big we were going to be. We would talk until the shutters came down and the cafe closed. We would then all return to our respective job the next day bleary eyed and yet feel pumped up again when we meet in the evening. It was a very happy time. There was a strong bond and sense of camaraderie among us.
Then it was finally time to start the real work.
Based on our strengths, I assigned tasks for each of us. Even then, I had the knack of identifying individual strengths and weaknesses. The next meeting would be one month later.
When we met again, E brought in another friend of his, J. E was responsible for the graphics and design portion of our internet project. During our many early discussions, we identified web programming as the weakness of our team. At that time, PERL (cgi programming) was the language to use and B was assigned to take up that responsibility. Apparently, E was not confident that we would be able to resolve our lack of technical skill, so he brought in J.
J was a programmer and he was proficient in PERL and web development. The problem was, J already had his company and it was a company of 4. If we collaborated, it would become a company of 8. Too many chefs in the kitchen.
During the many meetings after J joined, J gave me the feeling that he looked down on our team. He felt that our success solely depended on him. He gradually treated us like second class citizens and put us down.
As time goes by, the meetings became more and more infrequent and then they just stopped. I didn’t call for any more meetings because I knew then that the team would have many friction and disagreements due to J’s involvement. He did not respect nor value our contribution. We just quietly went our separate ways.
From that point onwards, I vowed that I would do something on my own and not depend on anyone in future. I started buying lots of books and did self-studying, getting myself ready for my next eureka moment. I paid attention to ideas that I can do on my own.
It took me another three years before a new idea (my current venture) came upon me which I believed I could do it on my own. In between, I read up many technical books and kinda become Jack of all trades but master of none.
The first 3 years of my own start-up was one of the toughest periods of my life. Something about the New Year eves then would always make me feel very blue and down. Even though I may be surrounded by party revellers, I would feel like an island in the sea of people. When people were out celebrating, I would be wondering if it was time to give up. It didn’t seem like I was getting anywhere and I still had bills to pay. Self-doubt was a monster which constantly challenged me.
Yes, working alone was really tough. When I had problems, I had no business partners to share the burden with and I had to do everything on my own. However, I was fortunate to have married a very supportive and understanding wife. It was my wife who held my hand and walked with me through the darkest patch of my life.
But many of the lessons I learnt then made me who I am today. I was trialed by fire.
After many years on my own, I am now very used to making my own decisions, implementing my own ideas and solving my own problems.
That being said, I would encourage people to have a team. The trick is identifying the right partners and managing the ego and expectations of each individual. Usually, with the right team, you should be able to achieve more in a shorter period of time. Working alone, I was usually constrained by what I myself can do.
I don’t think there is a definite answer to the question if a startup should have a co-founder. Different circumstances require different approach. My circumstances pushed me to walk the path alone.
Mabye, just maybe, I was born to be a lone wolf.