For the longest time, there were only two major paths for tech entrepreneurs:
- A. You raise capital, and you’re expected to grow fast;
- B. You self-fund your business and can grow at your own pace.
These paths weren’t mutually exclusive, and they both had advantages over one another but, overall, those were the options for founders.
Either you went big, or risked being labelled a lifestyle entrepreneur.
Now that the costs of building new products have decreased, generations (and mentalities) have changed, and business gatekeepers have lost some of their leverage, new and more diverse paths have become real options for entrepreneurs. Enter solopreneurs:
What Are Solopreneurs?
Solopreneurs are business owners running their businesses alone. They can work in either B2B or B2C, in tech or in other domains, and have modest or grand ambitions.
The core difference between entrepreneurs and solopreneurs is that solopreneurs choose to build their businesses alone.
Although this post focuses on solopreneurs in technology, what’s particularly interesting with solopreneurs is that they embrace the constraint of being solo.
As Lean and B2B entrepreneurs, there’s a lot we can learn from their approach and mindset, specifically:
1. Solopreneurs Use Constraints to Define Their Businesses
We’ve already talked about the importance of the entrepreneur fit in building and growing a startup.
With solopreneurs, the entrepreneur fit is at the heart of their decision to start up. By limiting the scope of the business ideas they evaluate, and being keenly aware of the lifestyle they’re trying to have, they’re able to make better decisions as to what the right business is for them.
B2B entrepreneurs need to learn to keep the entrepreneur fit front and center. Building a business you’re not uniquely qualified to build can lead to de-motivation and the feeling of being estranged in your own business.
To achieve speed and success, it’s usually best to build for your unique competitive advantage(s).
2. Solopreneurs (Often) Use Quick MVPs to Validate Their Businesses
A rising trend among tech solopreneurs is the idea of building really quick MVPs and throwing them out into the world for validation.
Although this requires distribution channels to get visibility and it won’t work for enterprise or mid-sized businesses, I’m not convinced that it’s a bad way to get a quick feel for a business idea.
By building something quickly – say 12 startups in 12 months – and putting it out there for the world to try, you limit the scope of what you’re building and avoid getting too caught up in your idea.
Executed properly, this approach allows you to learn and pivot quickly after failures.
3. Solopreneurs Embrace Codeless MVPs
Another interesting trend pioneered in part by solopreneurs is the idea of creating codeless MVPs:
— Pieter Levels ✨ (@levelsio) June 29, 2017
With the rise of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and Web Services, people of all backgrounds are now able to build tech products. This means that teams can now create (and iterate on) basic versions of their products without or before hiring (or partnering with) development talent.
This approach can change your team structure, the business dynamics, and speed up your product-market validation.
For B2B entrepreneurs, it can help transform your early mindset from “Can we build this?” to “What external services can allow us to create and validate this quickly?”
4. Solopreneurs Can Only Focus on the Essential
There’s only so much you can do as a solo founder. Put too much on your plate and your run the risk of burning out. Put too little (or too much of the wrong things) and your run the risk of stagnating.
When you have a team, it’s easier to stretch and assign unessential tasks to co-founders or employees. You may not bear the brunt of it, but these tasks can destroy productivity, team morale, and slow down your growth.
Solopreneurs are constantly forced to re-evaluate and re-prioritize tasks. This helps keep their focus on the truly essential tasks, and forces them to embrace the lean methodology.
5. Solopreneurs Start with Lower Expectations for Their Businesses
For some reason – be it media or culture – we don’t hear the same kinds of stories about solo founders that we hear about startups.
Because they don’t have a team and generally haven’t raised large sums of capital, solopreneurs experience less pressure for their business to sell, grow big, or morph into something else. This helps keep their expectations in check.
Considering the time it takes to get a B2B business off the ground (18 to 24 months), and the Long, Slow, SaaS Ramp of Death, it helps to have the right expectations at start up.
MailChimp was a side-project for 6 years.
Todoist was a side-project for 4 years.
Basecamp took 2 years before it was paying their salaries.
Maybe the rest of us shouldn't be in such a hurry.
— Justin Jackson (@mijustin) December 1, 2018
The Mindset Stays, the Title Doesn’t Need to
With more types of entrepreneurs comes more potential paths to success.
Maybe you want to start as a solopreneur, but eventually, as your business grows, you decide to hire a team. Or maybe, you follow the reverse trajectory.
If you have a team and/or co-founders, compromises might lead to the creation of a business everyone is ok with, but no one loves. Worse, you may create useless work just to keep the team engaged, which is absolutely not lean.
Overall, there are a lot of things we can learn from solopreneurs. The more models we know, the better equipped we’ll be to handle what’s up ahead.
⚡⚡ Enjoyed this content? I go into way more detail on this subject in Lean B2B. It covers the ins and outs of finding traction in the market for B2B products. Check it out »
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