Photo by Zanthia.
For many an enterprising engineer, starting a company alone is a very attractive proposition. You have complete control of your own product and get to keep a 100% of the spoils. As a bonus, you can start building right away. What a deal!
Conventional wisdom, however, advises against starting companies alone. Many prestigious investors avoid solo entrepreneurs as a matter of policy. Research shows that companies started by single founders are statistically much less likely to succeed. Etc.
I have bootstrapped RecordBox through many ups, downs, and seemingly endless plateaus over the past 18 months. In this post, I am going to share some of the difficulties of going it alone. In my next post, I will share some of my techniques for bringing method to the madness.
It's what you don't see that gets you
Most of my problems have been due to my own naivety about what it takes to create a successful company.
A successful software company is a massively cross disciplinary effort. Business model development, product design, engineering, marketing, sales, and customer service. You can't neglect any one of these!
When I started, I had no experience with anything apart from engineering. I didn't realize how much work the rest of the stuff required. I didn't know how to deal with the unique problems posed by each discipline.
As a result, a lot of my problems have been psychological. Quite simply, I was surprised by the enormity of the task at hand and was not prepared to deal with it gracefully.
Having another person as committed as me would have helped tremendously because they would have shared half the load, thereby making the task twice as bearable.
A sounding board, a commiserator, a load balancer
For instance, here are some of the issues I have dealt with at various points in the last 18 months doing RecordBox.
Fatigue. As a solo founder, you have to do everything yourself --both the technical and non-technical parts. Even if you have people helping part time, you ultimately have to manage them. You have to make all the follow ups. You have to take the final decisions. You essentially have to learn about everything. Splitting responsibilities in half more than doubles your efficiency.
Weariness. At a young company, your todo list is always growing. It is hard to reach closure on anything. It sometimes feels impossible to take a breather. A co-founder can provide some vital outside perspective and thereby ease the pressure.
Loneliness. Motivation can be difficult when success is elusive and there is no external reassurance that you are on the right track. Having someone in it with you provides the much needed external reassurance.
Getting overwhelmed. Negative feedback. Unreasonable customers. Bugs which cause data loss. These things happen. And when they pour down on you, as they so often tend to do, you can easily get overwhelmed. Having a shoulder to cry on in these situations is priceless.
Learning to deal with it
Luckily, I have gotten better at dealing with these emotional states over the past 18 months.
This is partly due to good old experience --dealing with a situation once makes you better at dealing with it the next time. But it is also due to some proactive measures I have taken to minimize the mental stress of dealing with so many things simultaneously.
As a result, running out of money is a bigger risk to RecordBox today than running out of energy and resolve. I just hope that money is the easier problem to solve :)
In my next post, I will share some of my methods for keeping my internal conversation healthy and constructive. In the mean time, I have some questions for you. What, if anything, prevents you from handling pressure gracefully? What have you done to improve this? Hit me up in the comments!