What is the right number of founders in a startup?

Posted on January 15, 2013 by Paul O'Dea


Someone asked me an interesting question recently - what is the right number of founders in a startup? Most of us only have the agony or ecstasy of a few startups so this an important question to consider early on. Like all seemingly straightforward questions, the answer is complex.

Having been through multiple startups (good and bad) here's my take:


  Pluses Minuses
One Founder Good for lifestyle business, keep more equity but hard to find examples of scale. Can be egocentric, blind spots, a lonely place.
Two Founders Good if there's trust. Maybe a product builder and a product seller. Breaking up is hard if one co-founder can't go all the way.
Three Founders Broader set of skills at early stage when there's lots of work to do. Three can be a crowd for tough decisions.
More Than Three Founders Good for post work sports teams! Too hard to get decisions. Too little equity for the 7 - 10 year journey to keep good people incentivised.

So how can you make your startup succeed? Test your co-founders hard during the dating phase, as post divorce founders remorse is ugly. Ensure all co-founders are honest with each other about: what they truly like doing? what are they good at? what/who they know? whether their ambition is to be rich or run the show?

In summary - no surprise, there is no simple answer. But here's some final words of wisdom based on my hard won experience:

  • For single founders: get an experienced mentor early
  • For two/ three co-founders: get a shareholder agreement signed that also addresses what happens when one co-founder leaves
  • For more than three co-founders: forget it!

Posted in: Startups, Founder