Being a first-time founder can be an overwhelming experience – especially if you’re going it alone. Shouldering the responsibility to push your business off the ground is no small task, but studies show that solo founders have some of the highest success rates. The secret to this success? Having the right people by your side.
As someone who took a huge leap of faith in turning from a full-time career as a surgeon to launching my healthtech startup, I know all too well how daunting being a solo founder can feel. Throughout every challenge and hurdle I've had to overcome to launch Cinapsis, it was the people working with and supporting me who made the biggest difference.
So to other aspiring entrepreneurs preparing to launch into life as a solo founder, my advice would be to go for it but don’t try to go it alone. Here is how to surround yourself with the right people to help transform your start-up dream into a reality.
1. Let go of team hierarchies and ask your employees for help
While your role is first and foremost to lead your team, don’t be too proud to seek help and advice from those around you. Embracing a flexible working culture where every team member is actively encouraged to contribute their opinions and ideas will create a more dynamic environment for you as a founder. It can feel scary at first to let go of the reins, but leaning on your team members for advice and support can help build your confidence as a leader, and provide you with a deeper range of perspectives to help make the right decisions.
Letting go of the hierarchical order of job titles and taking the time to ask even the most junior team members for their opinion can be transformative – a pair of fresh eyes may help you spot things you might not have thought twice about. Whilst as the founder you have the ultimate responsibility when it comes to your business, seeking support from your team will make your decision-making stronger.
2. Ask friends and family for advice – but not too many!
Being able to talk to someone completely uninvolved in the business is invaluable as a founder. It’s often the first port of call for those who are new to the start-up arena, as an opinion from someone who can look objectively from outside the business can provide a new angle on whatever problems you might be facing.
But be careful not to overload yourself with too many opinions from different friends and relatives. Of course, someone outside the start-up can offer unique insight, but too many different perspectives can make matters worse. When I first set out to launch Cinapsis, many people that I spoke to – from fellow colleagues to friends – warned me not to do it. I had to push through the noise, ignore the naysayers and forge my own path. And I’m so glad I did. Choose one or two trusted people you can lean on for support, and don’t let too many opinions cloud your judgement.
3. Speak to other founders – successful and not
Striking out on your own as a solo founder can sometimes feel isolating – but you’re far from alone in this experience. There are thousands of other founders who are going through, or have already taken, the same journey you are currently on. Their experience won’t look identical to yours, but they can provide an invaluable source of advice and support.
Look around you to see what others have done. Sometimes, the best lessons can be learnt from those who have tried and failed, and from how they have moved forward afterwards. Reaching out to other entrepreneurs, who have experienced all degrees of success, and sharing your own experience, is vital.
You could choose to establish a formal mentorship with someone who has been through a similar founder journey to your own. Research shows that mentored start-ups grow 3.5 x faster. Dedicated programmes like the Founders Network or the Digital Health London Accelerator can also help connect entrepreneurs with an invaluable support network within the start-up community. Through these communities, we can learn from one another and support each other to grow stronger as individual founders.
As a solo founder, you may at times feel alone in your experience and responsibility. But it takes a whole team of people to launch a start-up, and surrounding yourselves with the right people is key to guaranteeing success. By building a strong group of team members and supporters around you, and opening yourself up to advice and discussion with the people that you trust and admire, you can ensure that you are not alone on your route to start-up success.