You Don't Need a Co-Founder

...but you do need a team.

And if you happen to find someone amazing you want to partner up with, that's fantastic.  Just don't go picking someone who really doesn't compliment you just because it's some kind of VC rule.

I've heard a lot of VCs tell founders they need co-founders--and that they wouldn't look at a business at a very early stage without a co-founder.  A lot of accelerators treat solo founders the same way--making it an implied requirement to participate.  

Would you have not wanted to back Jack Ma at Alibaba because he didn't split the majority of his equity with a partner?

The same holds true for VC funds.  A lot of limited partners wouldn't participate in funds run by a solo GP--despite the success of solo funds run by Steve Anderson, Shana Fisher, and that really scrappy Brooklyn guy.  As with most things in Startupland, there are numerous exceptions to rules around success.  

Experts will trot out tons of examples of businesses with co-founders and they'll say it proves some kind of rule--because there are way more examples of success with multiple founders, then you must need a co-founder to be successful.

After all, they'll say, there are too many things to do in a startup to do on your own.  

Well, of course there are.

That's why you need a *team*.

That doesn't mean the first person on the team besides you also needs a board seat and 40% of the common equity to do it.  I'm pretty sure they also don't mean someone who came up with the idea, put in some initial capital and did some key initial work while doing another job--because then you'd have a Co-Founder along the lines of Garrett Camp at Uber.  He was instrumental to the founding of the company, but didn't work fulltime on it for a prolonged amount of time--because he had his own company to run.  I don't think you can get into YC with this kind of "Godfather"-type co-founder as your partner if they're not going to be there day in and day out.  That's not what people mean when they say you need a co-founder.

We don't really even have a consistent definition of what a co-founder is--so it seems preposterous that there could be such universal agreement that everyone needs one.

To me, a co-founder has a shared responsibility over the direction and vision of the company.  To me, the test of whether someone is truly your co-founder is if you'd give them one of two board seats and whether they'd run the business if you left.  Otherwise, you're more of a key founding employee.  You'll probably get 5% of the equity or so, and while you did important work, it's likely that the company could have been created without you.

These kinds of co-founders are awesome, but you can get into trouble when you start giving them huge chunks of equity or they think they're going to be in it for the long hall.  They're often not the people who have the ability to scale up and lead teams, finding themselves without a role as the company grows and evolves.

That makes it really tough if there comes a point when they're not the right person to fill a role.  Because of the misnomer "co-founder" title, they feel like it's their company, even though it's not--and no one likes to have to leave something they feel ownership of.

Co-founder disputes can be emotionally draining and disruptive--and they can tear companies apart.

Therefore, it's not only key that this is a person you really *want* as your co-founder (as opposed to feeling like you need them), but that their role reflects what they mean to the company.  Too many people pick the person who just happens to be the #2 person at the company, especially when it's the other side of the business person + technical person combo as their co-founder.  In reality, this person isn't in any way going to be anything like Co-CEO.

Differentiate between founding board members, founding employees, and true partners--the kind of co-founder who could run with the company if you weren't around.

Completing your team as much as your resources allow you to is a critical strategy--and it should be carefully considered, planned ahead and constructed to scale  Jumping into a co-founder relationship is like jumping into a marriage where the plan is to have as many kids as possible ASAP.  

This is someone you should take the time to find someone great for--who compliments you and brings out the best in you--because that's what's best for the company, not because some VC told you to pick just anyone.