The Skills Needed to be a Solo Founder

Startup’s often put their founders in tough situations and one of the toughest is becoming a solo founder. Within the Sterling Road portfolio, a solo founder recently raised an $18M Series A led by Accel. Here are the 3 skills Joseph Quan, CEO of Knoetic, perfected to ensure 2021 was a successful year:

Be a Generalist

What: You’ll need a basic understanding of most tasks within the company from sales and hiring to engineering management and marketing. If you try to hire people for these tasks too early, it’s hard to know what “good” looks like, as you haven’t completed them yourself. Some of these tasks, such as email setup, corporate registration and payroll are mission critical for your startup.

Why: As a solo founder, you will be directly involved in almost every goal your startup sets. You’ll need to be able to personally address a range of problems to keep the company on track.

Be a Learner

What: Read around and seek advice on every issue you encounter, to collect as much data and as many options as you can (in reasonable time) before making a call. Make use of external mentors and courses, and engage peer groups of other similar stage founders. At Knoetic, Joseph would often consult 4–5 advisors on strategy questions, as well as involving his team — this was a significant time commitment, but necessary for good decision-making.

Why: Even the best generalist will not know how to solve every problem, so you will need to collect a broad range of options and information to give yourself the best chance of finding the right answer.

Be a Recruiter

What: Hire great people into key leadership positions, as well as those that can make you make you more efficient, e.g. an Executive Assistant, Chief of Staff, or Sales Representatives. This will involve spending the majority of your time on recruitment until your key openings are filled. In Joseph’s case, hiring a hungry Chief of Staff, who wanted to own entire projects, provided a huge lift to productivity.

Why: Being a solo founder doesn’t mean building your company completely alone, instead you will need to find true believers willing to commit to the aspirational future ahead while taking less risk than a cofounder.

Being a solo founder is incredibly difficult, on top of all the usual challenges of building a startup. To be successful you’ll need a broad set of skills, a willingness to learn, and to hire great people early.

Thanks to Kaego Rust for their help with this article.

Sterling Road invests in pre-seed B2B startups based in the US and Canada.
Full investment process. Contact:

Photo by Sean Benesh




Pre-seed Investor. Email: B2B, US only. I work with founders for 3 months before investing. More info:

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Ash Rust

Ash Rust

Pre-seed Investor. Email: B2B, US only. I work with founders for 3 months before investing. More info:

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