10 Successful Solo Startup Founders
There is a continuing debate in the entrepreneurship community about whether a single founder can start a successful company. The most common arguments against flying solo include:
- It’s harder to get funding
- Starting a company is an emotional roller-coaster which becomes much easier when you have someone to share the experiences with
- There is an overwhelming amount of work to be done
All of these are great reasons why it’s harder to start a company by yourself then with a partner. But harder doesn’t mean impossible – in fact, there are far more companies started by single founders than I could list here. But let’s look at ten of them, to appreciate the breadth and diversity of what a solo founder can accomplish.
Giacomo ‘Peldi’ Guilizzoni
Peldi took the startup world by surprise in 2008 when his company, Balsamiq Studios, became profitable exactly three weeks after launching, and he blogged the details of his financial state for the world to see. He quickly skyrocketed to internet celebrity, and popped up in podcasts and interviews across the web.
Peldi has grown the company to 11 people in 4 years, and if the company pictures on his website are any indication, he’s having a blast. His seems to be the best kind of lifestyle business: passionate customers, industry respect, comfortable growth.
Wurwand founded Dermalogica in 1986 to offer consumers a product based on skin health, rather than beauty. Consumers responded: the product line is wildly popular. Dermalogica now pulls in more than $200 million in sales from 51 countries across the globe (source), and lays claim to being the leading professional skin care brand.
Cohen bootstrapped Smart Bear Software to over a million dollars in annual revenue before making a profitable exit. Along the way, he penned a popular blog where he continues to write on startup issues.
After selling Smart Bear Cohen launched a new startup, WP Engine, this time making it a joint effort.
Bezos hardly needs an introduction – he is, after all, the founder of Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer.
Bezos left his cushy Wall Street job to, as he’s described, stake a claim in the Internet gold rush. Amazon.com went IPO 1997 and has done very well since then:
Dinnis ‘Chip’ Wilson
Wilson founded Lululemon Athletica in 1998 because he was frustrated with the cotton clothing available for his yoga practice. He brought his expertise in technical athletic fabrics to bear on the problem, and the apparel that he produced soon become coveted across the nation.
Wilson exited Lululemon in 2005 when he sold his shares in the company. He ranks as the 9th wealthiest Canadian and 401st in the world with an estimated net worth of 2.9 billion.
Walton is best known for founding Wal-Mart. He bootstrapped his company with money saved from his time in the Army and by raising money from his father-in-law. He is also renowned for his pioneering efforts in retail, and is included in Time’s list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century and has received The Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Vidget founded Temporary Housing Directory in 2001 to help people who had been displaced from their homes due to an insurance claim or corporate relocation find temporary housing.
Vidget launched the company so she could tone down her hectic schedule and spend more time with her son. Yet she has grown the company to 38 employees and $31 million in revenue (2009).
George W. Jenkins
Jenkins founded Publix Super Markets in the midst of the Great Depression. He raised $1,200 from friends as seed money, and ten years later expanded to build Florida’s first supermarket. The “food palace” featured a paved parking lot, an automatic door opener at the entrance, and air conditioning.
As of 2011, Publix held over a thousand stores and, 151,500 employees and sales of $27 billion.
Omidyar is the founder of eBay. The service started in 1995, and made its public offering in 1998. According to Forbes, Omidyar is worth $8.2 billion as of September 2012, making him the 141st richest person in the world and the 42nd richest United States resident.
Smith wrote a paper for a Yale economics class outlining overnight delivery service in a computer information age. It’s rumored that he received a C – but the paper became the basis for FedEx. Utilizing an inheritance and VC backing, Smith founded Federal Express in 1973.
FedEx’s 2012 revenue exceeded 42 billion dollars, and it had 290,000 employees.
There you have it – ten successful solo startup founders. Some were breathtakingly profitable. Some changed the course of their industries. Some spend more time with their families than they did prior to starting their companies. But, in summary, they all proved that solo founders can start successful companies.
Addendum: Readers have suggested the following additions to the list:
Weinberg and a cofounder bootstrapped The Names Database in 2002, selling it for $10 million in 2006. He is currently the solo founder of Duck Duck Go, an Internet search engine, and an angel investor.
Blakely bootstrapped Spanx with $5,000 of her savings in 2000. Spanx is now valued at more than $1 billion, and Blakely is the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.
Markus is the sole founder of Plentyoffish.com, an online dating site. He created the website as an exercise to improve his ASP.NET skills in 2003, and it grew quickly.
He ran the company independently until 2007, when he began hiring employees. It’s estimated revenue in 2008 was $10 million.
Chahal dropped out of high school at 16, in 1998, to work full time on his startup ClickAgents. Two years later he sold the company for $40 million. In 2004 Chahal formed BlueLithium, which he sold in 2007 for $300 million. He is currently working on his third startup, RadiumOne, which is valued at $500 million as of March 2nd, 2012 (as reported on Wikipedia).