Interview, Startups

Are co-founders overrated? Here’s why these 5 African entrepreneurs are flying solo

It has become norm to add a ‘team’ slide in pitch deck for investors or ‘Our Team’ on a start-up website, but a bigger buzzword is ‘Co-Founder’, as almost everyone now stresses the need to actually launch with a team of at least two filling the roles of: idea, business, design, and technology.

While it is important to build a startup with a good team, is it really important to launch with one? Looks like some outliers are just doing fine starting solo. I reached out to 5 African entrepreneurs to find about life as a single founder and why they decided to go down that path.

 
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Mark Essien – Hotels.ng

My name is Mark and I’m founder of Hotels.ng, a startup that does hotel bookings for hotels in Nigeria. Life as a solo-founder has its up and its downs but rather than waiting for the perfect co-founder to come along, I believe in just starting and doing. And after a while, the support/skill network around a founder is large enough that a co-founder becomes optional.

 
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Ahmad Mukoshy – Gigalayer

GigaLayer is a web hosting company that provides domain and hosting solutions from Nigeria, delivering reliable and strong internet presence to individuals and businesses. For me life is tough, uneasy and very demanding, although I am not sure if this would have been any different if I had a co-founder. Being a solo-founder of a small hosting startup, everything boils down to my ability to act fast and make decisions from ‘one-brain-box’.

Overall, I am not feeling like something is missing as far as leading the company is concerned, all I need is complementing hands in staffing. I didn’t find any co-founder when starting, so I had to start without him/her although it would have been great having a co-founder.

 
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Bukola Akinfaderin – Jandus Mobile Solutions

Founded in 2010, Jandus Mobile Solutions has released two products Jandus Radio and Caban Property Search application. Jandus Radio has quickly gained popularity as one of the most reliable mobile apps for listening to African radio, so in turn life as a solo founder has been quite busy. It’s even more difficult when you are running two startups. It’s sort of like a balancing act. You have to wear many hats. It’s difficult to find personal time. Once a month I try to take at least 1 working day off and completely relax undisturbed.

I wish I had co-founders but unfortunately I haven’t been able to find someone that would dedicate 100% of their time to the startup. We haven’t raised enough funds to sustain reasonable salaries yet. It’s understandable that people have to earn a living so they take on other things and do not put enough into Jandus Radio’s business. I believe that’s a major reason why.

 
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Gossy Ukanwoke – BAU R&D

BAU R&D is an education research and development company, reinventing learning in Africa through BAU, BAU Online and BAU Investments. We are engaging the Higher Education sector in Africa through research, institutional development and corporate acquisitions. Life as a solo founder is amazing, most times. It is easier to have the vision and drive it as pleased, at the pace that I believe can bring about better results.

As to why I do not have a co-founder, I say who needs a co-founder when you have an amazing team? My team is more efficient and committed than any co-founder I would have found.

 
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Adebayo Adegbembo – Genii Games

Genii Games is the parent entity behind Asa (meaning Culture in Yoruba); a brand dedicated to the promotion and preservation of our indigenous African Culture (starting with Nigeria’s) among kids using technology. Our goal is to stimulate the interests of these kids (home and abroad) in subjects relating to our indigenous African Cultures using features like animation, voice, text, sound and games through mobile and web apps.

Life as a solo-founder has been anything but solo given the roles played by those I term my ‘invisible’ and effective co-founders – my employees and mentors. Maybe cultural promotion and preservation is not the most appealing of ideas to the average youth as staying on this path requires passion and I wasn’t fortunate to find anyone willing to share that at the expense of immediate material gratification until my invisible partners came along, thanks perhaps to my persistence, perseverance and patience.

There you have it. Have your take on having a co-founder, startup teams, and more? Do add it as a comment below.

 
[Photo Credit: Σταύρος via Compfight cc]

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6 Comments

  1. Interesting piece. While I think it's very important to have a co-founder as it's kind of impossible to the best tech, business, design, guy for a startup idea, that should not be the reason for not launching. You can always hire, solicit favours from people that have skills you lack just to go live, test, and validate. Also a good idea to know where to find good co-founders – events, hackathons, incubators, schools, etc.

  2. Great post though I sort of disagree with its premise. Other than Gossy, all the other solo founders didn't choose to go it alone, rather they were herded in that direction by circumstances. Reading them, it seems they would have accepted a committed co-founder if they could find one when they were starting out.

    Without a doubt, being a lone wolf simplifies so many decisions. However, simplicity is over-rated in startup life. The loneliness and the blind spots are what get you in the end. No one has eyes in the back of their heads and I really believe a well-matched co-founder can be the difference between a "small business" and a "high-growth startup". Conversely, a poor choice of co-founder is quite simply the pits. It can layer on frustration and despair when what you need the most is encouragement, complementariness and synergy.

    1. Ok. I hope you do get these points from re-reading again: The point of the article was to showcase these solo founders and just get to know what's life is for them and why they decided to start off alone.

  3. I think i find this piece rather interesting and a core show of confidence with the listed examples of founders that have decided to GO SOLO. Seriously i grew up to understand the term co-founder a long long time ago, even before there was internet.

    Let me recall what i believe i was taught to be the meaning of a co-founder. Usually a term used to define more than one person coming together to start a company, product or invention. As straight to the point as the word sounds, CO-founders in my understanding is a situation when more than one person founded a startup.

    I don't really think term is being used in the original sense these days. Especially when someone already goes ahead to start his or her company then looks for an equity partner as then refers to him or her as co-founder.

    1. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Co-founder in the true sense of the word refer to folks that 'start' with you from idea to building the business. Employees now get equity still not referred to as co-founders. The point of the article was to showcase these solo founders and just get to know what's life is for them and why they decided to start off alone.

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