We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.
We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.
There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).
This chapter is from the People theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!
Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.
Don’t Go It Alone
by Mark O’ Sullivan
Mark is the founder and CEO of Vanilla, which makes forum software that is used to power discussions on more than 300,000 sites across the Web. Vanilla raised $500,000 after completing Techstars in 2009.
Before Techstars, all of the work I did on Vanilla was done alone. While I had the members of the Vanilla community helping me with features and bugs, all new initiatives were mine and all final decisions were made by me. If I decided not to do anything, nothing got done. When I first spoke with David Cohen, he immediately stressed the importance of having at least one co-founder. Having been working alone for so long, I really didn’t understand why he felt it was so important. I was absolutely positive that I’d be fine on my own, and in retrospect, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
When I set out to find a co-founder, my list of candidates was very short. I needed someone whom I could trust implicitly, had the skills and dedication to do the work, and who I would work well with. These requirements brought the list down to two people. One person was working at Microsoft in Seattle and had just bought a house. He simply couldn’t afford to quit working and try to start up a new company. The other person was single, had money saved in the bank, and was coming to the end of a consulting contract. All I needed to do was convince him.
I met Todd Burry over 10 years ago in Toronto at the first tech company I worked for where he was the head of the web development department. Todd immediately disliked me because I looked remarkably similar to his high school nemesis. Despite this fact, we became fast friends and worked closely over the years. Todd was incredibly smart and helped me become a better programmer. A number of years after leaving that company, working at Microsoft, and eventually returning to Toronto as a contract programmer, I reconnected with Todd and we began sharing contracts and working together again. I knew we worked well together and I had absolute confidence in his skills as a developer and his mind for business. To put it bluntly, Todd is just way smarter than I am.
They say that the first cut is the deepest, and cutting my ownership of Vanilla in half should have been a tough pill to swallow, but it really wasn’t. It took a number of lengthy phone calls, some code review of Vanilla 2 so he could get up to speed, and introductions to David Cohen at Techstars, but Todd eventually agreed to come on board.
When Techstars began, Todd and I would return to our shared accommodations each night and reflect on the day. We thought it was exhausting in the beginning of the summer and I’m so glad we had no idea of how much more difficult it would get. Ignorance is, most certainly, bliss. I cannot count the number of times I would reflect on a day and think to myself, “There’s no way I could have gotten through that day alone.” By the end of the summer, there was no longer any personal time available—Todd and I worked 14-hour-plus days, every single day of the week.
In the 2009 Techstars group, there was one company that had a lone founder. It was painfully obvious to me, watching the lone founder struggle to make progress, what could have happened had I not brought Todd on board with Vanilla. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I watched a company with four co-founders continually knock it out of the park and wished I had added a third person to the Vanilla founding team.
It wasn’t that I truly couldn’t have done it by myself (I think I could have). Instead, it was that I would have missed so much. Todd and I were able to split up tasks: if there was development work to be done, one of us could stay behind and do it while the other attended meetings or talks; if we were both in on meetings, I knew that he was grasping things that were slipping past me, and vice versa. To be able to reflect and share our thoughts on each day was the true value that I discovered in having a co-founder, and that is something that lives on well beyond our time at Techstars.
Creating a company is really hard and there is way more work than you can even begin to grasp. Having someone to share your burden, walk side by side with you into battle, and sing you show tunes when you’re feeling blue is invaluable.
While there are examples of companies created by single founders, many of the most successful tech companies have been created by at least two co-founders. Google (Brin and Page), Yahoo! (Yang and Filo), Apple (Jobs and Wozniak), Intel (Moore and Noyce), HP (Hewlett and Packard)—the list goes on and on. Brad’s first company—Feld Technologies—was started by two people (Brad and Dave Jilk) as was David’s first company, Pinpoint Technologies (both founders were named David—now that’s confusing.) Even though Techstars is often associated with just David, there were four co-founders—David, Brad, David Brown (David’s co-founder at Pinpoint Technologies), and Jared Polis. Entrepreneurship is a group sport—don’t go it alone. -Brad and David
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