San Francisco, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 03/22/2013 -- Prestigious startup accelerators in the U.S.–like 500 Startups, TechStars and Y Combinator–generally “select against” solo applicants. But why reject entrepreneurs trying to follow in the footsteps of lone founders like Sara Blakely (Spanx) or Jack Ma (Alibaba)?
“We believe being a single founder is one factor that makes it more difficult to succeed… [because] there is just so much to do at a startup,” said Y Combinator partner Jessica Livingston, who estimates that fewer than 10% of companies accepted and funded by the accelerator are led by solo founders. “Also, the moral weight of starting a company can be very hard to bear alone.”
The founder and chief executive of TechStars, David Cohen agrees, noting, “In the context of TechStars…you have to meet with mentors, build your product, fundraise and more, all at once, in a very tight timeframe.”
There are ways for solo founders to increase their chances of getting in, according to investors and entrepreneurs involved with accelerators.
TechStars’ David Cohen suggests, “If a founder has the ability to build a product, or has a team around them, non-founders who are very committed, that could be an exception.”
That was the case for Babylist CEO Natalie Gordon, who recently graduated from 500 Startups. She created a baby registry online that helps new parents discover and share information about the supplies they need to care for their newborns. Babylist generates revenue when it refers sales to retailers.
Gordon believes, “I got in because I had already built a product that had a significant number of users who were very engaged with it already, and because as a software developer, I didn’t need a technical co-founder.”
Babylist now has three full-time employees and an office in San Francisco’s Mission District. The company attained $50,000 in seed funding from the accelerator.
The CEO and founder of Lawdingo–a startup that helps people find lawyers, and even consult with attorneys, online–Nikhil Nirmel, managed to get into Y Combinator’s current “batch” (or cohort) without programming chops, or co-founders.
While nobody outright discouraged him from applying, he says, “prevailing wisdom suggested…success was unlikely for me, a solo founder who can’t code.”
To improve his chances, the Lawdingo CEO spent a year building his beta site with contract software developers, and forging customer relationships, including with attorneys and their prospective clients.
“By the time I applied, I had something meaningful to show [YCombinator] – user growth and revenue. Creating a product that is demonstrably needed in a market is hard on your own. But doing it overcomes most objections,” he says.
Other companies that made it into top accelerators as solo acts include Y Combinator graduates Ray Grieselhuber, CEO of Ginzamarkets (better known as Ginzametrics) and Olga Vidisheva, CEO of Shoptiques; from TechStars, Laura Fitton, the founder of OneForty (acquired by Hubspot in 2011); and from 500 Startups, Naoki Shibata, CEO of Appgrooves (known as Searchman SEO), Damian Madray CEO of Hunie, and Aihui Ong, CEO of Love With Food.
Lawdingo has already raised $160,000 in seed funding, including $94,000 from Y Combinator and affiliated investors, and Nirmel is about to present at the accelerator’s Demo Day (Winter 2013) before an audience packed with potential investors, advisers and partners.
When people tell him to bring on a co-founder, as they do about five times a week, he says he’ll remind them of the flip side:
“[You’re] able to make decisions more quickly than a team who needs to reach consensus. You can craft and execute on a very specific vision that is not diluted. A co-founder disagreement can kill a startup.”
Lawdingo connects people with attorneys for initial virtual legal consultations online. We aggregate the credentials, availability, and contact information of hundreds of participating attorneys across America in order to provide consumers with a single interface through which they can find and talk to the specific lawyers relevant to their legal needs.
Founded by internet entrepreneur, Nikhil Nirmel, the company is based in California's Bay Area.
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