Lone innovators of the world unite

Conventional wisdom among much of the investor community might have you believe that only projects borne out of teams have the potential to succeed. People that work alone are an awkward fit. Maybe they’re considered anti-social, giving a sign that they’re not able (or willing) to work with others? Or they’re considered too introvert? Perhaps building a team is part of the investor pre-investment test? “The evidence is in everywhere that great innovation comes from collaborating” is what we’re lead to believe.


I’ve previously written about the need to invest more in people, not just projects. It’s now just a case of extending that argument from ‘people’ to ‘person’.

If you’re looking for evidence that introverts aren’t all that bad (or rare) – and I guess many lone founders might be rightly (or wrongly) grouped in that category – then Susan Cain’s Quiet is a brilliant place to start:

The introvert/extrovert divide is the most fundamental dimension of personality. And at least a third of us are on the introverted side. Some of the world’s most talented people are introverts. Without them we wouldn’t have the Apple computer, the theory of relativity and Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

After spending most of my early career in the mobile-for-development field as a lone non-profit technology founder, quite successfully I’d like to think, these past few months I’ve been learning the ropes in the commercial sector as I build out a new mobile app idea. The difference in approach is quite something – that’s something for a longer, future blog post – but the focus on market opportunity and business models feature strongly, as does the need to be in a team. This from a programme I was looking at just last week – the Barclays Accelerator:

No founders

I suppose I could always drop my app idea for a while and spend huge amounts of time bringing a bunch of other people on-board. Or I could not do that, and just look for investors who don’t mind lone innovators. They do exist – I found one. And they invested.

No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a teamReid Hoffman, Co-Founder of LinkedIn

I don’t dispute that, ultimately, you’ll need a team to build out your idea. My argument is simply that it might be after you’ve started building, and after you know your idea has legs. Focus relentlessly on the product first.

After all, no product, no business, no (need for a) team.

4 thoughts on “Lone innovators of the world unite

  1. Lee Schneider says:

    Ken, this really resonated with me. The purpose of business is to develop systems, to produce, to deploy and ship. At least right now, there is a huge product emphasis on what business is and that means building a team. But if you are not developing a business but instead are developing a cause backed by technology, and want to deploy that into the world– maybe you don’t need to team at all. Good stuff. Thanks for writing

  2. kiwanja says:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Lee! I’m glad the post resonated. In another twist of irony, there’s a strong push on being lean. There’s little leaner than a single-founder business.

  3. Bart Doorneweert says:

    It’s a great dilemma you’re pointing at! The way I see it is that you’re going to depend on a team for growing your business eventually. If you can’t build the team, then you can’t scale, and your investors will likely oust you. Whatsapp is the top company I know on a users/employee ratio and they still had 55 people on board before FB.

    I think Y Combinator’s Paul Graham put it the best way ( can’t recall exact refernce) by stating that single founders will be accepted, but only when they can demonstrate ability to put together a team during the program. Solution?

  4. kiwanja says:

    Thanks, Bart. I agree – that is a fair compromise which I do allude to in the post. Teams are critical if an idea is to fly, but I just think it’s a bit of a waste of time, money and bandwidth if it’s done before the idea is even tested.

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