Mistakes Startups Shouldn’t Make with Corrections

Paul Graham has a great piece about the top mistakes startups shouldn’t make. Generally speaking I think he’s right on the nose. I’ve made a few of these in the past so I can speak from experience.

The only problem is that he starts off on the wrong foot:

1. Single Founder

Have you ever noticed how few successful startups were founded by just one person? Even companies you think of as having one founder, like Oracle, usually turn out to have more. It seems unlikely this is a coincidence.

Have you also noticed how one founder seems to dominate (Steve Jobs vs Woz or Bill Gates to Paul Allen). I’d argue that many startups that have two founders often have one that dominates the decision making process.

What’s wrong with having one founder? To start with, it’s a vote of no confidence. It probably means the founder couldn’t talk any of his friends into starting the company with him.

It might also mean that the founder wants to take it lean and mean and not raise a VC or angel round and bootstrap the company. Having a co-founder means having an extra mouth to feed.

But even if the founder’s friends were all wrong and the company is a good bet, he’s still at a disadvantage. Starting a startup is too hard for one person.

So? Don’t start it with one person! Bring in an advisory board and use consultants when you need them.

This dove tails with his second issue – bad location. If you’re in a good location (San Francisco) your friends will often help since everyone roots for the underdog. Having a good advisory board and smart friends can really help.

What I find funny is that if I’m right about number one then this negates #17 – fights between founders:

Fights between founders are surprisingly common. About 20% of the startups we’ve funded have had a founder leave. It happens so often that we’ve reversed our attitude to vesting. We still don’t require it, but now we advise founders to vest so there will be an orderly way for people to quit.

With a single founder who’s executing correctly a fight won’t necessarily hold the company back. If they have a good advisory board and smart friends it might be a lot harder to make mistakes.

  1. Jeffrey McManus

    Amen brother.

    I was never able to reconcile the rule that says you have to have more than one founder with the rule that says that the most common source of startup failure was conflict between the founders. So I’m the founder, and I have helpers and advisors, and there you go.

  2. +1 to Jeffrey’s comments. Let me also add that few of my friends can go 18 months without a salary. Maybe we’re all just too old for Paul’s model, but we have mortgages, wives, and kids.

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