How Many Founders Does A Startup Need?

I love my NewsGator and Technorati key word search feeds – they help me find the most interesting things.  A NewsGator key word search on “Ryan McIntyre” picked up this post by Chan Chaiyochlarb titled If you are going to launch a startup, how many friends would you need?

It’s a neat table of the number of founders for Microsoft, Google Youtube, Yahoo!, Overture, eBay, PayPal, Skype, Kazaa, Hotmail,, Excite (where Ryan’s name showed up), Napster, Lycos, Amazon, Apple, MySpace, Facebook, Netscape, AOL, Mirabilis, and Digg.  The average number of founders – 2.09.

My first company – Feld Technologies (1987) – had two founders (me and Dave Jilk).  The first company I funded as an angel investor (NetGenesis: 1994) had six founders that quickly dropped to four.  The second company I funded as an angel investor (Thinkfish: 1994) had four founders. Another early angel deal I did (Harmonix: 1995) had two founders as did Email Publishing (1996). The range from 1994 – 2000 seemed to be solidly between two and four.

I just looked through the companies I’m currently on the board of.  The number of founders range from 1 to 4 with a concentration of 2 and 3.  The few companies that have single company founders paired up with an experienced entrepreneur as CEO early in their life.

When I look at the list of my successful companies, the distribution is very similar.  Lots of two founder companies, a few threes, and a few fours.  I can’t think of a success case that I’ve been involved in with greater than four founders (although my partner Ryan can since Excite weighs in as the exception with six.)

  • How many succesful companies have just one founder?

  • I don’t know, but it certainly is an interesting question. In my experience – especially in the tech / Internet / software world – more than one founder is both the norm and seems to be linked qualitatively to success. I expect someone has done an academic study on this somewhere. If not – it seems like a good contemporary Ph.D. project for someone.

  • Brad,

    You can find a good analysis by a Harvard prof on founder equity spits’ effects on success here:

    It doesn’t quite answer the question, but interesting data nonetheless.

  • Mike Frye

    Someone ask me recently about how many partners and founders. My opinion is that it

  • Abraham Sultan


    I recently read a very similar article with some interesting observations by dharmesh at


  • Also, what is classed as a founder? I’ve started three businesses…and was always the first running with the idea. In each case brought on people on an ad needs basis. First one other then a few more…so who are the founders and what’s the cut off point? First six months? First through the door before you raise real cash? Hummm…