Up until recently, I was the solo founder of eventLo, a recommendation engine for upcoming social events. I even wrote a post about some of my experiences as a solo founder. About a month ago, that changed, as I merged eventLo into SpotOn. Here’s how it happened, and some reflection on the last month.
I was chatting with Charlie O. back in September when I first heard about SpotOn. He mentioned that their CEO, Gauri Manglik, was deeply passionate about the space. He also seemed worried that the space was a bit crowded, but I wouldn’t let that deter me. I was on a warpath with eventLo, and wouldn’t be scared off.
Over the next few months, I heard about SpotOn through several friends in the tech scene. It was probably my closest competitor and most buzzed about startup in the ‘local’ space. I was interested, but wary.
Back in early January, things changed. My friend Zach had met Gauri at a local tech event and mentioned the connection. Apparently she had been hearing about eventLo for a while as well. Zach suggested we meet and arranged a lunch.
Over several lunches throughout January, Gauri and I met, chatting about our visions for the space. It was easy to open up to each other because our products were adjacent, but not overlapping from a product perspective. From a business perspective however, we were on a collision course.
It really wasn’t too long before our talks were getting serious. Tech infrastructure, team makeup, business direction, funding objectives. We knew where it was heading, but were still both just dabbling our toes in the water. As we got more comfortable we really started opening up, and finally, like a dating couple, the question was out there. “Are we talking about combining forces?”
The coming weeks were filled with rapid due-diligence. Team introductions, tech shares, planning meetings, co-working sessions. We confirmed that we all worked complementary to each other, and agreed to join up. Cap tables with Gauri and Orion, investor meetings, and finally an annoucement at the Hoboken Tech Meetup.
So, what changed on my end? A lot of things, but the biggest was a realization that when complementary skill-sets combine, the result is far more than a sum of the parts. Seems obvious, but it was hard to internalize until I felt that intense sense of collaboration in those early meetings. The early lunches set the tone for what was possible, and reminded me that the best way to delegate is to give up control to people more expert than yourself. At this point in my life, I’m a better CTO than a CEO, and Gauri is a better CEO than I am. Focusing on technology and product is how I am most effective, and I’ve come to truly embrace that. In a lot of ways, Gauri handling CEO responsibilities frees me up to do what I do best, which is building great tech products with a solid team.
Through this entire experience, I’ve learned a lot about myself. The biggest is that I don’t want to be a solo founder at this point in my life. Building a business is much more than building a tech product, which is what I’d like to focus on right now. Now, I’ve got a killer, well-rounded team and driven partners. We push each other, which really gets you through the slow days. The shared passion is an unbounded source of energy, and every idea gets rapidly iterated and improved upon as soon as it’s uttered. This team is lightning-dynamite-laserbeams, and the potential is mind-blowing.
If I had the chance, I wouldn’t go back and change anything because I’ve learned so much. On the other hand, I now understand that finding the right founding team should have been priority #1, and done before I ever wrote a line of code (it’s easy to let product take up all of your founder-search time). Another reason is because once I started building eventLo and called myself CEO/Founder, it erected a wall between myself and potential co-founders. The whole time I was thinking “the more I build, the more control I’ll have long-run.” I should have embraced the possibility of giving comparable equity to passionate partners who would have added gasoline to the fire.
To the founders and aspiring founders out there: I’m not suggesting you avoid solo founding, but be aware of who you are personally. Having the right team is invaluable, and brings with it more than just skills and another set of hands. Solo founding is emotionally tough and will push your limits, but it is also a self-learning experience unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
However big your captain’s table, keep strong and carry on.