If you are going to launch a startup, how many friends would you need?

Once in a while, I always like to research and take down some “useless statistics”, which probably doesn’t have any real meaning, but interesting to waste time at.  And here is one of them. 

I have always been curious as to how many people does it take to “found” a successful company.  So I decide to dig up some pretty shallow info on big name companies and their founders, and find the average number of founders among those companies.  The list simply contains just companies which are started by individuals, not a subsidy of another corporation (e.g. Alta Vista).  Although they could eventually be acquired by other companies.

Here is the list in no particular order, and the list is quite random.

Company name Founders Total
Microsoft Bill Gates, Paul Allen 2
Google Sergey Brin, Larry Page 2
Youtube Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, Jawed Karim 3
Yahoo! Jerry Yang, David Filo 2
Overture (formerly Goto.com) Bill Gross 1
eBay Pierre Omidyar 1
PayPal Peter Thiel,Max Levchin 2
Skype Niklas Zennström, Janus Friis 2
Kazaa Niklas Zennström, Janus Friis 2
Hotmail Sabeer Bhatia, Jack Smith 2
Ask.com Garrett Gruener, David Warthen 2
Excite Graham Spencer, Joe Kraus, Mark Van Haren, Ryan McIntyre, Ben Lutch, Martin Reinfried 6
Napster Shawn Fanning 1
Lycos Dr. Michael Mauldin 1
Amazon Jeff Bezos 1
Apple Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Ronald Wayne 3
MySpace Tom Anderson, Chris DeWolfe 2
FaceBook Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes 3
Netscape Marc Andreessen, Jim Clark 2
AOL William von Meister 1
Mirabilis (which engineered ICQ) Yair Goldfinger, Arik Vardi, Sefi Vigiser, Amnon Amir 4
Digg.com Kevin Rose 1

Average 2.09

So it looks like chance of success is definitely better with a team of two. I think two is a good number — it’s easy to collaborate and get things done.  A single phone call would be sufficient to get both stakeholders in touch with each other.  In addition, two-person team would not take up too much space as well, which makes either a single-car or two-car garage an ideal place to setup office, conference room, server racks, and so on.  That’s what I call flexibility. 

This sort of puts new perspective into the old saying, “Two heads are better than one“, doesn’t it.  🙂

Comments (15)

  1. Geoff Wilson says:

    For a set of contrasting stats, it might be interesting to look at the founding team size of spectacular failures against  successful companies.

  2. dave says:

    So you have a list of very successful startups. 7 were started by one person, 10 were started by two, and 5 by more than two.

    can you really conclude anything from that?

  3. TLC says:

    Good stuff!  

    As I hope to launch my own tech start-up in the not-so-distant future, I have wondered about the same thing.  IMHO, 2 to 3 person founding team is better than a maverick founder, and here are some reasons (by no means is this an exhaustive list):

    1) There’s just not enough hours in a day for me (1 person) to handle effectively all the "founder" activities and may negatively impact any time-to-market advantage.

    2) It is invaluable to be able to bounce ideas and get quick feedback (aka sanity check) from someone I trust implicitly (if you don’t trust your co-founder implicitly, then you’ve got a BIG problem).  If I can’t even convince my partner-in-crime of my vision, what chance do I have to convince investors and customers alike?

    3) While my ego is about as healthy as the next starry-eyed entrepreneur, the sad truth is that I’m just not well-rounded enough to say that I’m well-versed in all aspects of launching and running a tech start-up.  

    I found that I agree with what OnStartups.com has blogged on the topic of founder and co-founder (a good number of insights).  Here’s one that I’ve starred in my RSS reader:

    Pithy Insights On Selecting A Startup Co-Founder


    Again, just my humble opinion, thanks for listening.

    – TLC  

  4. JM says:


    Interesting figures and findings from the list of companies you list.

    What do you define as a "successful" company?  Is a successful company a company that is large and/or well known?  The only company in your list that is any bit "small" is Napster.  However, that company was bought by another company in your list (AOL) — at least I think it was.  It would be interesting to see what the figures would look like with profitable regional companies (e.g. small companies that are not well known, but have been in existence over 5 years and are profitable).

    – JM

  5. ch4n says:

    First of all, the companies that are listed here are not truly classified by any sense — other than they are the ones which have (or had) made significant impact to the computing/internet/technology industry.  There are many more companies which were not part of the sample set, but I’m just noting down the ones which people more-or-less recognize it.  In hindsight, "successful company" is probably not the right word to use as it  has multiple meanings.

    Secondly, great suggestion on adding companies which had failed to even out the field.  I think that’s probably worth another quick research or perhaps another blog post.  I did think about this while writing up this post, but I decided not to add them just simply because I wanted to highlight the companies which made it through.  However, to have contrasting number would definitely even things out.

    And many thanks to TLC who provided even more astounding opinions for the advantages of multiple founders as well as providing a very relevant article about Founder and Co-Founders.  Good luck on your endeavor!

    Lastly, I don’t think we can *seriously* conclude anything from this list and it’s simply meant to be just an interesting stats to take a peek at.  There have been even more comments made at Y Combinator (http://news.ycombinator.com/comments?id=1142) that the interesting thing (despite the small sample size) is the strength of the median (which is two).

  6. Nick Hebb says:

    Your standard deviation is 1.19, making the range of 1-3 founders well within the limits of viability.

  7. Bergo says:

    I am curious about the age of the founders.

    There have been many articles saying most of the founders are usually early 20s. The recent Youtube guys were in their twenties, so was Bill Gates from memory.

    If you want to include other Hardware style companies from a while ago Michael Dell of Dell Computers, was in University when he started selling PCs from his dorm Room.

    The Hewlett-Packard guys I think were young in someones garages when they started as well.

    This is Paul Grahams argument about young people starting companies now, they don’t have big financial committments and can risk a year or so on the bread line (they probably are used to it) while they bash out a product.

  8. Myself says:

    The lack of women on that list is striking and depressing.

  9. ch4n says:

    Hi Myself,

    I agreed that the list is pretty limited when it comes to woman.  However, there are a lot of women who’s currently running or sitting up pretty high on many of those companies.  

    Some quick examples:

    – Marissa Mayer, VP at Google

    – Meg Whitman, President and CEO at eBay

    – Indra Nooyi, CEO at Pepsi Cola

    – and if you visit Microsoft executive page (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/exec/default.mspx?group=A-D), you’ll find a bunch of high ranking female execs at MS.

  10. Sanjay says:

    I hope it works for us.



  11. chrisco says:

    Dave, RE: "So you have a list of very successful startups. 7 were started by one person, 10 were started by two, and 5 by more than two.  can you really conclude anything from that?"

    Um I think you can, with 100% certainly, that multiple home-run Internet companies were started by one or two people.

  12. chrisco says:

    Dave, RE: "So you have a list of very successful startups. 7 were started by one person, 10 were started by two, and 5 by more than two.  can you really conclude anything from that?"

    Um I think you can, with 100% certainly, conclude that multiple home-run Internet companies were started by one or two people.

  13. smr says:


    you should take weighted average, rather than just average. weighted by worth of the company.

  14. motea says:

    actually I have a question that is related to starting business with my friends, about being co-founder or not.

    should the person who has the co-founder title have percentage of the company, as partner? or it could be just the person who participated in the establishment process before the company start work and added important value to the company, and works in the company as one of the directors?

    Ill be thankful if you answer me as soon as possible.

  15. Dude says:

    Ronald Wayne left Apple so soon after setting up the company you might as well leave him out of these statistics.