The Solo Founder Conundrum
Let’s face it. Not everyone who has the passion to enter the consumer goods arena is doing this with a partner or co-founder. Daniel Lubetsky didn’t. And look how Kind bar turned out.
I’ve detailed the common problems with lone wolf founders on my podcast. This is the most common archetype of solo founder. They are a hyper-dominant founder with a command-and-control orientation and perhaps a few employees or part-timers. It’s not that different from how I operate.
Yet, here’s the thing: a solo founder who owns ALL or the majority of the company aside from a few investors’ shares has a fundamental psychic blindspot. Unless they are extremely self-aware professionals, they are not set up internally to have their ignorance challenged. This is especially true among solo founders new to CPG because, let’s face it, it’s a complicated industry with lots of internal specialization.
The solo founders who do well are professional enough to learn what they don’t know quickly, seek outside advice (and challenge), and either skill up or bring in talent to compensate for their weaknesses.
If a solo founder is a) curious, b) self-aware, and c) coachable, then they will benefit immensely from bringing on board scrappy, talented specialists to help them operate. But they have to learn the strange art of managing specialists without experience in those specializations. This is the greatest leadership challenge of all, even though it doesn’t seem that way in a tiny startup. If appreciated, these founders can grow and manage a collaborative team with a solo owner.
What occasionally happens is that solo founders are simply folks who don’t partner well. If this is the case, it will haunt them in virtually every important stakeholder relationship (i.e., partnership).
Or, the solo founder quickly attracts ‘yes people’ who don’t challenge the hero founder. This gets worse, if the business is doing well.
I don’t recommend the lonely route of being a solo founder to anyone (unless you come from the CPG industry already). It’s important when you’re new to an industry that you have real, equal business partners who are empowered socially to challenge you when necessary AND to simply bring an additional perspective to what is ultimately a very complex puzzle.