How To Expand Your Startup of One

When you read about startups in popular tech publications, it always seems as though the most successful companies were founded by two people. In fact, there have been many articles written lately about the importance of finding a co-founder. (Seriously, google the term startup and growth hacking and you’ll see dozens of results.)

It makes the solo entrepreneur feel even lonelier. For some, it might instill a sense of hopelessness, especially for a rocky startup. But realize one thing:

The startups that get headlines at popular tech outlets aren’t necessarily the top startups in general. Often they are outliers, companies so good that the press cannot ignore them. But make no mistake: these companies do not represent the norm for startups. Many startups begin and end with a single person.

Founded, sold, and forgotten

What gets lost in today’s tech press is that so many startups never get to the point where the tech press cares. These companies typically start with a single person looking for freedom from the shackles of a 9-to-5 job. First comes the idea, then comes the execution. If the idea is well executed, then people will take notice. Perhaps not the tech press; they’re too busy chasing down the outliers. But the people who matter, who make deals happen, they’re the ones who notice.

If the small startup looks promising enough and is profitable, chances are a larger company will buy it up before the larger public gets wind of it. Once folded into the larger company, the startup completely loses its identity, so people don’t even know the name. Yet the founder can become rich in such a transaction. And isn’t that the whole point, at least to an extent?

The question you have to ask yourself is, do you want to make money, or do you want to become famous? (The answer is really: I want to help people, but we’ll assume that’s included in both choices. Otherwise, why bother?) If you want to become famous, go nuts searching for a co-founder. But if you’d rather free yourself from your 9-to-5 in the most effective manner, don’t feel about going it alone.

To sell or to grow?

Of course, once your company starts turning a profit, myriad options open to you. When you’re still just a fledgling idea masquerading as a company, no one cares about you. Once you get users or clients and start making actual money, well, then they start to notice. At a certain level of profitability, you can usually cash out, for millions, to a larger company. But that’s not your only choice.

You can choose to grow your solo startup and test your limits as an executive. You’ll have to be pretty sure about your company’s chances, especially if a buyout offer is on the table, but growth is certainly an avenue a solo entrepreneur can pursue. It requires many fundamental changes to the way the company is run, since previously you ran everything. But all of these changes are eminently attainable.

If you choose this path, you’ll need plenty of help to get going. It’s going to cost you money, to the point where you might even look for angel investors. That does change the entire equation. But it’s a risk with the potential for great rewards.

What you’ll need

Thinking about taking the growth path? Then gear up, because the road will be plenty bumpy. Here are a few suggestions to make the transition a bit easier.

Hire former coworkers. The corollary to this is, don’t hire friends. Nothing against your friends, but chances are they won’t understand how seriously you take this endeavor. They’ll see it as a way to make money while hanging out. That is never the case. With former coworkers, you at least have an idea for their work ethics, their drives, and their abilities. You can’t hire these people forever, but they should be your first hires.

Get office space. It might sound convenient to continue working from your home office, and hiring people to work remotely. Certainly, it will save you on rent and utilities at an office. But managing a remote team can bring huge challenges (trust me, I know). Having everyone in a single location can help expedite processes and improve communication. At a stage where you need every advantage you can muster, this is a crucial element.

Keep meticulous books. When you’re working for yourself, you can keep your finances straight in an Excel workbook. Since you’re the only one touching money and making decisions, the simplicity works. But when you’re expanding, you need to keep track of every penny that moves. I’ve always recommended Intuit accounting software for Mac, since it includes QuickBooks, TurboTax, and other crucial bits of software. It’ll cost you a little, but it can save you even more by ensuring you know everything that happens to your company’s money.

Growth hacking. If you’re going to grow your company into a profit machine, you might as well go all-in. Old marketing tactics are expensive and have become increasingly ineffective in the modern world. That’s not bad news at all, especially for business founders. We tend to think differently from other people, anyway. Growth hacking is what you need. That’s what will get you from 1,000 users to 1,000,000, from small profits to huge ones.

No one said this process would be easy. Taking a solo business and expanding it means spending a lot of money with no guarantees of future profitability. Certainly, it’s easier to just cash out and move onto the next idea. But for big ideas, expansion becomes an attractive option. So are you ready to expand your startup of one?

Author bio: Joe Pawlikowski is a writer, consultant, and business founder who has worked with a number of companies, specifically in the publishing industry. He tries to update his personal blog, JoePawl.com, with his thoughts on marketing, business, and writing.

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