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ASK HN: How do you motivate a lazy co-founder?
107 points by vignesh343 on June 28, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments
Hi, I'm new to this board.

I have a question about motivation. I'm running a mobile start-up and we just moved into our new offices. We started working on our spare time putting in time whenever it was available. Now, my co-founder and I are dedicated full time to the business and we've hired a couple of interns.

The problem however is that while I show up daily at 9 AM, my co-founder (the engineer, I'm the business guy) shows up every morning in the PM. We've had several discussions about inappropriate this is and how he's degrading office morale (mine and the intern's) by showing up so late every day. He stays late hours to try and compensate this tardiness, but it's still really poor presentation and incredibly unprofessional.

I have no recourse because we split the venture 50/50 (no vesting). If I want to continue on the project without him, he can block it. I've tried buying him out and he insists he's committed and will not sell under any circumstance. My only recourse is to quit and block him from taking the idea and running with it. Neither of these are admirable outcomes and I'd rather run the business as far as it can go with a lazy co-founder than end it in such an ugly fashion.

What I really want is a decent fucking co-founder who can show up at 9 (or 10 AM if he absolutely needs an extra hour of sleep) and be a profesional. Does any one have an idea on how to motivate him to do this?

Thanks, Vignesh




Change your standards (really).

In my experience with start ups, developers rarely come in early. Some of the best developers I work with come in at lunch. This is because they are night owls and work better at night.

Not understanding that pure-bread developers work differently is denying the basis of your product.

It sounds like, on a personal level, that you want your co-founder (who is technical) to be more like you. Well sorry, that's not going to happen. You need to understand that you wanted to work with him in the first place because of who he is and what he is capable of, not what time he gets up in the morning.

As a little background, I am a developer. I do however, wake up at 6:30, and I'm at my desk at 7:50am. This is before any other developer (and more times than not before anyone else has even shown up). I'm not like most developers, this is my personal choice, and I understand that.

Demoralizing him and berating him will further his cause to be dissonant to "business." This includes coming in later and later over time, not wearing "professional" clothes, or being hard to work with.

My heart-felt advice is to apologize for being a prick to someone so important to your product, your business, and your success, and set a road map for increasing co-founder communication and understanding. You chose him because he was different. If he had the same skills as you, you wouldn't need him.

So first apologize to yourself, forgive yourself for being close-minded. Then apologize to him, and the interns. It takes a big person to be able to do that. It won't be fun.

Then have a candid, non-confrontational conversation with him. Figure out where the communication ended (I guarantee this is your issue). Remember, you're in this together.

If he doesn't come in early enough for calls or presentation, do it without him. Ask him to give you the materials or knowledge you need to do it well. Maybe do some of the things you think he should. Try to help him do his job better, which may not be looking professional, having sane work hours, etc. If hes an engineer or developer, his job is probably building the product.

You may be surprised that the cool helpful guy you met is actually still there.


EDIT: followup - http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1469271

Old post:

I think the OP should be thankful his dev doesn't walk. If I partnered up with some biz guy who demanded I show up early for no other reason than appearance I'd assume he's an empty suit and leave. (9am is early in this industry, I've never had a job that demanded I show up before 10:00).

OP: You're a 2.5 man closet startup and you're asking your other half to be less productive for the sake of appearance. Are you sure he's the one with the problem?

All this talk of being "unprofessional" is a joke when it's two guys who just scrounged up enough capital to rent a cheap office trying to impress a fucking intern. Jesus Christ.

On second thought, I'm certain I'd bail if the OP was my "partner." The lack of thought put into this, the fact that you've considered trying to oust him instead of confronting him, the fact that you seem to lack the ability to look at your company critically (again: 2 dudes and some interns == 9-5 IS NOT A BIG DEAL) all shows a severe lack of biz sense or even common sense. You're obviously insecure (cares too much about appearance to some teenagers), ill-informed (does not understand developers or managing developers) and not equipped for a leadership position (talking to HN instead of the one person in the company who he should be talking to).

I hope the "partner" you're treating like an employee reads this thread and bails. You reached out to a forum instead of talking to someone who's your other half. I can't imagine how you'd run an actual company.

It sounds harsh but it's a harsh industry.


I've been in an interview where they bluntly said "8:30am - 6:00pm are the required hours minimum".


But they were upfront about that.

I "work" from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, but in fact I'm very unproductive, especially in the morning, and I get only a few blocks of 2-3 hrs where I am productive (maybe 5 out of the 10 hours total in a good day).

I was a lot more productive with other time arrangements (and space, I'm in an open office with 7 other developers, which kills my chances of being "in the zone" unless I wear headphones).


Seconded.

I worked at a job where I typically came in around 10 AM, and all the developers rolled in around 11 onward (or worked from home, or worked odd hours, etc.). That was the way the company had been since I started there, and the only reason I came in so early (despite working late) was because, as the sysadmin, I had to be there for office problems and desktop support.

Shortly after my supervisor left to move on to other projects, the guy promoted to take his place decided (or it was decided for him) that everyone should come in 'business hours' - i.e. show up at 9 AM. Suddenly, instead of being earlier than everyone else, getting work done, staying late, and then doing some work from home, I was getting lectured for being late every day.

My reaction was simple. I started showing up between 9-10 as requested, and started leaving between 5-6, as was fair. Stuff stopped getting done, my mornings were completely unproductive and in my rush I often forgot to take my medications, resulting in nearly no work getting done at all. I was stressed in the morning from rushing to work (or from getting phone calls at 10:15 demanding to know where I was). Eventually, I was so drained that nothing that wasn't urgent got done at all. Projects dragged on, things stopped getting done.

Since I hadn't taken a vacation in the year and a half I'd been there, I asked for my vacation pay to get paid out, so I could make some purchases - a new mattress to help me sleep better, a sun lamp to help me wake up, etc. Instead, I ended up in a passive-agressive back-and-forth with the CEO, who had retroactively decided that I'd taken too many (management-approved) sick days. At that point, I had no interest whatsoever in being productive.

Eventually they let me go, citing 'insufficient work'. I took a month off, revitalized myself, and started a new job elsewhere. The company, meanwhile, continued to go downhill. The development team (including my supervisor) left to start a new company, contracting their services out. Their stock price was already in the toilet, so that hasn't changed, and they're selling off any assets they can to keep afloat.

The moral of the story: if you try to force your techs to be 'professional' for no other reason than you believe that's how everyone should act, you'll ruin any goodwill you had with them, alienate them from yourself and the project, and doom your business to an early death.


Amazingly good advice from the parent.

Remember, this is someone you are intending to go a long way with.

Either find a way to work easily and smoothly with him now or get out now. Things will get harder and more tense before they get easier.


Pro advice to the author, I was thinking along these same lines (communication, not scheduling is the problem).

Keep focused less on what hour in the morning your cofounder shows up, and more on deadlines that you're working to. Most importantly as the business guy focus on how the shifting market perceives each of your product/feature releases.


One of the best advises I have read. You should elaborate on this. Maybe as a blog post. I think it applies to most jobs where you do not have to deal with the customers in real time. Many managers could learn a thing or two from your comment.


While I think this may be a bit harshly phrased, I agree with every sentiment expressed here.

To add my own anecdote to it, for the past several years, I have worked odd hours. I have a family and I am going to grad school. I come in early most days, but then I leave for a long time in the middle of the day and come back and work late into the evening. If I fall behind in the week (or just have a lot going on), I come in on the weekend.

This flexibility means I do not conform to most people's ideas of a normal work schedule, but it means I get to achieve my goals of taking care of my family properly and getting my masters, and this means I am more motivated to actually work for the ocmpany.

Personally, if I were in a situation where I did not have flexibility to achieve those things, I would consider finding a different job.


While I agree with all of that, what about his obligation to help the interns? Working 5pm-1am isn't going to help the interns much.

It sounds like the OP might have been raised with a certain style of work ethic. Measure your partner's success based on what he adds to the product and the success of your technical employees, and how well he enables you to go out and handle your side of the equation.


Who decided on that obligation, and was it agreed to beforehand? Sounds like something the partners have to discuss and work out.


I'm not assuming anything, I'm just curious if that is also part of the story.


Let's try an experiment: ---

Hi, I'm new to this board.

I have a question about motivation. I'm running a mobile start-up and we just moved into our new offices. We started working on our spare time putting in time whenever it was available. Now, my co-founder and I are dedicated full time to the business and we've hired a couple of interns.

The problem however is that while I consistently develop our product, my co-founder (the business guy, I'm the engineer) shows up every morning at 9 AM sharp, and demands I do the same. We've had several discussions about "inappropriate" this is and how I'm "degrading office morale" (mine and the intern's) by showing up "so late" every day. We're supposed to be partners, but he continues to demand that I show up at 9 AM like he does, every day, with no regard for my opinion or how well I'm building our product.

...

What I really want is a decent fucking co-founde who understands that products aren't build only between 9AM and 5PM, and who can be professional and courteous during his conversations with me. Does any one have an idea on how to motivate him to do this?


Welcome to startupland. You're fucked if you think you're going to find a good engineer that wants to work 9-5. "Compensate this tardiness" == LOL. Half the point of a startup is avoiding that lifestyle. At any startup I've worked that went anywhere, the engineers all worked noon - midnight. Good luck.


Hi everyone! Thanks for all the helpful comments and suggestions!

I've learned a lot by reading through your posts and I applaud alttab for recognizing that communication (rather than hours of operation) might be at the core of the issue.

For the sake of the discussion (and to help advise me on how to proceed), I'd like to clarify a few points.

First, we have an intern who does work 9-5 (by his own choice, I told him he could set his own hours). For the first 3 hours of the day, he comes to my office asking when my tech-partner will be here so he can resolve some issues. The reason the office hours is such an issue is because he's not being there for the intern. Also, we're hiring more interns that start this week who will also need face time with him in order to advance their projects.

Second, and this is the most important point, because it's come up again and again in the comments, he is consistently missing deadlines and has failed to be very productive. His work is of top quality (why I selected him), but his progress is disappointingly slow. And for the record, he sets his own deadlines and repeatedly misses them.

Third, if he actually was spending his time outside the office working, I would have never made this post. He spends some spare time on the weekend working on the project. The rest of the time he stays up late and gets drunk/high with his girlfriend. He is constantly distracted by a partyboy lifestlye. I didn't want to mention that initially in case my identity is exposed, but at this point, its too relevant of a detail to ignore. I can't control what he does in his spare time, but I know he can't do those things in the office.

I would like to note that I have learned a lot from this post and I now recognize the insistance on timing his schedule is doing me a diservice. I am going to try to sit down with him and have a heart-to-heart about the work progress and abandon discussion about the hours. I have been giving him a convenient excuse to be unproductive by coming off as a prick. I need to focus more on producing and less on the particulars of when production occurs. Despite what many posters have said, I like to think of myself as open-minded and have no problem abandoning my prior philosophy in favor of something that works. Startups are always a learning process and I appreciate those who have helped me learn by sharing wise words of advice. Thank you once again posters!


You're fucked. Your co-founder doesn't like you (which is why he's showing up late and not doing his work) and you don't like him (because he drinks and gets high with his girlfriend). You should figure out a way to wind it down and move on as quickly as possible.


Just because he misses his own deadlines doesn't prove that he is slow or a bad developer. Especially in the beginning, a lot of unforeseen problems can occur during development. Very few developers (if any) get the estimates right. Perhaps he also decides to pursue specific problems (ie if you are close to the deadline, you could either decide to release shoddy code, or miss the deadline - would you prefer shoddy code?).

Also, about the intern: the intern wants 9 to 5, your technical co-founder wants 12 to 20, and you are siding with your intern? Priorities? Get another intern who also prefers 12 to 20, or can get stuff done on his own.


>First, we have an intern who does work 9-5 (by his own choice, I told him he could set his own hours)

So the intern is dictating the hours a 50% partner should work? Really? How about the intern makes himself available.


This is a good point. If the intern is showing up at 9 AM but the dev partner is showing up at noon, the intern should have tasks he can do for three hours until the tech shows up. Ideally, those should be his hours of 'uninterrupted work' or research. Once the dev shows up, that's your collaboration time, and the intern leaves at 5 with a task list for the next morning.


I don't want to start a long post rehashing what has been already said, but there's something I want to tell about programming schedules : everyone is so bad at them that there are many jokes about it, like these:

Hofstader's law : "it always take longer than you expect, even when taking into account Hofstader's law"

the Cargill's law: "The first 90% of the code accounts for the first 90% of the development time. The remaining 10% of the code accounts for the other 90% of the development time."

And this hilarious Douglas Adams' quote : "I love deadlines, I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by."

Then I'll conclude with this anonymous word of wisdom: "Confidence, n.: The feeling you have before you understand the situation."


You're right to forget about the strict hours, but it does sound like there's some latent problem here. I disagree with the siblings that you're "fucked". Your cofounder says he's interested in the project still, so it's worth figuring out what the real issues are and addressing them by talking with him and cooperatively fixing them. He might not know right away and need some time to figure them out, but it's important to get the discussion started.

First of all, people are terrible at estimating how long something will take. You'd be better off noticing the patterns in his misestimation and adjusting his estimates accordingly in your own head. If it always takes 2x what he says it'll take, then just double whatever estimate he gives you.

Secondly, not being in at the same time as the intern always shouldn't be a big deal. If your intern really needs constant handholding, he's probably not good enough for your project. He should be able to make progress on his own and send an email to the boss if he has a question, or just work on some other task until the guy gets in to ask for help. This is just a normal part of working with other people and everyone has to learn how to do it. We can't all be at the same place all the time, and hell, some teams never see each other.

You might also want to remind your cofounder that drinking creates significant sleep debt, even if you get a full night's sleep, and sleep debt leads to higher distractability and subtly worse problem solving/thinking. It's possible that he's in a cycle of stressing out about work -> drinking -> not being at 100% mentally -> performing poorly -> stressing out more. In that case it'd be important for him to stop drinking and make sure he has enough stress-relieving leisure and breaks, time when he doesn't feel obligated to be thinking about work. Remember that software is a creative field, not a rote field, so the quality of his thoughts are what matters, not the hours spent at his desk.

So anyway, I suggest you treat your partner as a partner and start a discussion to work cooperatively to figure out why he's not being productive, or not appearing productive. It's very important to show him respect and show that you see him as an equal partner, and that you're not just condescendingly bossing him around. After all you want him to want to correct himself, not begrudgingly keep up appearances.


Note: interns who need more than a few minutes of hand-holding each day after being brought up to speed on the project (which is an initial significant cost) are non-starters in a startup that's got one full time long term technical employee.

One of the major objectives of many internships is to learn how to do a job, any job. It doesn't sound like a company of this size can afford interns of this nature.

BTW, who's idea was it to staff up with interns? Are they going to leave in August? December/January?


Good point. It's totally plausible that he's coming in late so he doesn't have to deal with the intern.


You'd be better off noticing the patterns in his misestimation and adjusting his estimates accordingly in your own head.

Better yet, encourage him to become a better estimator. The book Software Estimation: Demystifying a Black Art presents several strategies for developing this skill.

For example: before starting a project, classify it as “small”, “medium”, “large”, “x-large”, etc. (If you don’t understand what you’re supposed to be doing well enough to even make an estimate, you have a bigger problem.) After the project is over, record how long it took. After a few months of work you should be able to see what ranges of time are associated with what intuitive size estimates, and then you can translate your intuition into numbers.


Hi Vignesh,

Great response. Admitting you were wrong on an issue (hours) is a great step and that puts you amongst the small minority of people who can admit they're wrong.

That being said, there are several things to keep in mind:

* Your co-founder is an introvert.

* As others pointed out, if you want him to manage interns, you have to make it clear to him. Some (e.g., me) would never agree to take on a management role, no matter the money or equity involved, so you have to be prepared for him to say "no".

* As for deadlines, keep in mind that you know how to sell or (presumably) you'd have little to contribute to the company. Make sure you are not selling the engineer on unrealistic deadlines.


In that case, it sounds like you're fucked.

I have to think a startup whose plan requires the head technical person to spend any significant amount of time holding interns' hands is going to have problems, anyway, but if said technical person is more interested in partying than actually making stuff, forget it.

Good luck, though. I hope I'm wrong about that.


> he is consistently missing deadlines and has failed to be very productive. His work is of top quality (why I selected him), but his progress is disappointingly slow

Programmers "misunderestimate" deadlines. There are countless books written about this, and very little to do about it other than recognize it as an inconvenience.

The largest factor is usually "scope creep", where business interests inject additional details as the project progresses, each of which adds time but rarely get adjusted into the estimate. All these time deficits accumulate and interact to snowball delays far beyond expectations of both technical and marketing teams.

Either stoically push deadlines back for every change, or ruthlessly postpone these requests till future releases.

Also keep in mind that if your startup is doing something new, you're often asking for deadlines on "inventing the lightbulb". It will work when it works.

Startup development is usually not "engineering". Building a bridge is a known and quantifiable effort. Inventing a new business engine is often not.


> Second, and this is the most important point, because it's come up again and again in the comments, he is consistently missing deadlines and has failed to be very productive.

So I wrote a pretty harsh post previously before this little bit of -very important- info was added. Not getting things done while not working full hours is WAY different than getting things done on an unusual schedule.

Odd hours + Productive = OK / expected

Odd hours + Not productive = Dead weight

Good luck.


as well as

normal hours + Not productive = Dead Weight


One thing I notice about a lot of "biz" guys is that that have no idea how long some piece of work should take. If you don't know the effort, how can you possible judge if he's being productive or not? Lots of people suck at estimating. It doesn't mean they aren't productive. Maybe his top notch work is taking exactly how long it should? Maybe you should discuss a strategy where delivery is more important then code quality?

As long as you remain clueless about software development, you'll just have to take his word for it.


If you're "clueless about software development", your ONLY choice is to absolutely trust at least one software developer. No half-way about it, and if the OP can't (eventually) do this with his co-founder techie he should get out, and very possibly get out of this line of work. Otherwise at best he and his techies will be miserable.


Why didn't you mention any of that in the first place? It's kinda important information...

Either you're really bad at communication, or you're having fun trollin'


Try using Skype. Many hackers are most productive when not constrained by schedule or even location. Startups are hard, especially in the early stages with little/no compensation. Communicate with your partner about what is most crucial for the startup to succeed. If both of you are committed to those things, then it's probably just a matter of finding a way to make it work. Your task is to find out if he's truly lazy, or it's just a lack of communication/understanding.


"he sets his own deadlines and repeatedly misses them"

Are you putting him under any sort of pressure when he sets those deadlines?

If you are, is that due to real and concrete customer requirements (e.g. they say something like "If you can deliver this to us by July 17th we can complete our contract", what I call "pesky customers")?


Okay. This definitely helps paint a more clear picture of the situation.

First off, the situation with the interns sounds like you have a few issues. You're trying to turn your developer into a manager, which is fine if he's on board with that, but if you're trying to build an army of interns under his direction, you and he have to come to an understanding that he's going to be acting in both developer and managerial capacities. If he's not on board with that, you're boned. At small scales, the interns, being subordinate, need to conform to the project lead's schedule within reason. Email and IM are wonderful tools and can be used to time-shift conversations, as well.

Second, being underproductive is a very real and very bad problem. There's a glimmer of hope, though. Was he always this bad, or has he deteriorated? If he's deteriorated, it might well be due to a hostile work environment - nothing shuts down introverted creative types like an abundance of criticism and an absence of praise. If he feels that he's the constant butt of complaints without any recognition for progress he's making, he's gonna get very demotivated very quickly. A tech founder in a startup has to love what he does to succeed. If he doesn't, you'd better be paying him damn good money to keep him motivated, or it's a lost cause. There's too much blood, sweat, and tears wrapped up in a startup for it to succeed otherwise.

You seem to be saying the he's very talented, so it's likely not a lack of ability, but a lack of will. Either he's not cut out for a startup, or there are blocks in his way preventing him from executing. Recognize that developers are very bad at estimates and deadlines until they've had years of experience in failing at them. Work with him to figure out why he's missing deadlines (feature creep, unexpected maintenance, infrastructure problems, people problems, misestimation, whatever) and figure out how to help fix those problems, rather than just hand-waving him away as "missing deadlines". Give him the leeway to say "This will take 12 weeks" if it's going to take 12 weeks. Don't try to pressure him into making it happen in 4. What'll happen is that in 4 weeks, you'll have a shoddy, half-done milestone that is going to take twice as much work on the back nine to fix. If he feels like he's being asked to do too much in too little time, that's going to crush his resolve. Estimates should be just that - estimates - and it's critical to not just figure out when a deadline is due, but what the path to getting there is, as well. Have progress indicators to check up on periodically. Adjust the estimate if necessary. Find out what other job-related responsibilities are bleeding off time, and either adjust the estimate to compensate, or offload them to someone else.

You have two paths to take here: Figure out how you can repair your working relationship and restore his passion for the company, or figure out how to get out.

If you can't restore his passion for the company, either due to his being too distracted with a "partyboy lifestyle" or due to that bridge already being burnt, one of you needs to exit, immediately. There could very well be the possibility that his job is hell due to a breakdown in communications and the friction that results from it, and he's medicating that away with drugs and alcohol. That's your one chance to save this - if that's the case, then fix the problems he's medicating away, and you can get it back on track. If not, it's time to start executing an exit.


> You seem to be saying the he's very talented, so it's likely not a lack of ability, but a lack of will.

False dichotomy ... If a developer does quality work as claimed above, its unlikely he's missing deadlines from lack of will, wasting time, or laziness.

Thankfully the post continues by offering more likely reasons:

> there are blocks in his way preventing him from executing ... feature creep, unexpected maintenance, infrastructure problems, people problems... figure out how to help fix those problems, rather than just hand-waving as "missing deadlines".


Hi. Sorry I thought this was a troll post initially; it just had that smell to it, but your later posts cleared that up.

Is it possible to ask interns to work different hours? For example, some interns might love the chance to work an 11-7 or 12-8 job instead of a 9-5 one. And that way, you'd better align your cofounder's schedule with theirs.


Are you based out of Bombay. Shoot me an email, if you want to talk in person.


It seems like you are acting like a jerk. You're a startup,why act like a big company with these kind of silly rules? It doesn't matter when he comes to work as long as he works the hours and is being productive.

With this attitude, my prediction is that your startup is likely to fail. I just can't imagine any good developers can stand a co-founder who has such kind of bad attitudes and false beliefs about how things should work.


Where did you find this "co-founder"? It really sounds like what you want is an employee you can boss around. Did you ask around for a geek you can give requirements to like so so many other "business guys" do who think they have a great idea for a company? You've got a co-founder, not a lackey you can tell they're "allowed" to sleep in an extra hour in the morning, if they absolutely need it.

Read what the top-rated comments here say, then read them again. Then read Michael Lopp's book "Managing Humans". Luckily for you, you asked his question in the right place. You're getting real advice here that you absolutely need to take to heart if you want to avoid a whole raft of problems and probable failure.

Good luck to you if you get your head on straight and good luck to your co-founder if you don't.


You just stated why you are a terrible CEO. If you want to succeed doing a startup, unlearn everything and try to be more like him. At the least don't make things worse for him. If he is your 50% partner, he has as much right to decide the office timings as you are.

In my last job, I used to crash in the office most of the time (9 AM to 3 PM), skip most weekdays, work all night and all sunday. I never had any complaints and was considered quite good at what I do.

My last job was at Google.


"In my last job, I used to crash in the office most of the time (9 AM to 3 PM), skip most weekdays, work all night and all sunday. I never had any complaints and was considered quite good at what I do.

My last job was at Google."

In a company like Google, there are enough people in the office during normal business hours to compensate for the time you aren't there.

I can sympathize with the poster. If he (his co-founder) is the only person working on the technical side of the project, he should be there in the office during normal working hours.

When they do need to meet a client at 9am (because most businesses in the US are 9-5), will the developer be able to be there without falling asleep at the meeting?

It also shows me that the developer lacks discipline. The poster made a mistake in making him a co-founder. He probably should really be an employee.

I also get a sense that the developer wants to just hack away at the code on his own time and not have to talk to anyone about it. This is a recipe for failure. I've worked on many projects like this and what usually ends up happening is that the project gets finished with little or no input from customers/other people besides the developer and it fails.


"In a company like Google, there are enough people in the office during normal business hours to compensate for the time you aren't there."

Not really, there are several projects and average size of a team is quite small. In my case we were five people working on a quite large project and no one could compensate for my time. I knew I had to get something done in a week time and I will figure out how to do it. If needed, I had be there 24 hours, but otherwise I am my own boss.


"Not really, there are several projects and average size of a team is quite small. In my case we were five people working on a quite large project and no one could compensate for my time. I knew I had to get something done in a week time and I will figure out how to do it. If needed, I had be there 24 hours, but otherwise I am my own boss."

Somebody needs to meet with the higher ups at the company during regular working hours. It just wasn't you. It also depends on what your project entails. If it was all internal, you can easily get away with working on code all day without having to discuss it with customers.

The situation with a startup is different.


I had happily come to office at 7-8-9 AM to meet an higher up or attend an important meeting or whatever. That doesn't happen everyday.

In an startup, quite contrarily, I had want my co-founder to schedule meetings taking my timings into account. When not possible, I had come happily.


"I had happily come to office at 7-8-9 AM to meet an higher up or attend an important meeting or whatever. That doesn't happen everyday.

In an startup, quite contrarily, I had want my co-founder to schedule meetings taking my timings into account. When not possible, I had come happily."

I think coming in late is fine, as long as you can handle the early meetings when needed and the work is getting done. It doesn't seem like this is happening with the co-founder here.


I gave some very good reasons why the developer should be coming in at a reasonable time.

It seem this hit too close to home with many of the developers here.


It seem this hit too close to home with many of the developers here. (I don't care about my karma)


Is he really lazy, or is it just the committing hours that is bothering you?

His committing hours can change significantly than your hours particularly if he is facing challenging software implementation problems. When you get such problems (and they come one after the other in a startup) the important issue becomes fixing that royal problem rather than when or how much time you are spending on it. Those become the details. If he focuses %100 on the problem fixing, when you commit definitely tends to become less and less important.

You may say, we have some communication to do in the same hours, well sometimes also it even helps to cut communication so he can figure out and finish the job.

This is for someone who is really committing his efforts though. If he's not solving any problems then best thing to do is fix the business rather than your co-founder (i.e. quit or make him quit)


Developers are creatures of odd schedules. If he's got the skills to pay the bills, and gets the work done...let the schedule slide. Programmers work with computers and data which know no schedule. A tremendous number of them are traditionally nocturnal, and do their best work in the wee hours of the night.

If he's just lazy (as in, not getting things done) then there's a problem. But, your post doesn't seem to indicate that he is - just that he doesn't show up on your schedule.

At a previous job of mine, developers particularly were given flexibility in their scheduling. At one point, the management were looking to lock this down for many of the same reasons that you were - they had the perception that business only happens between 9 AM and 5 PM, and expected that if developers weren't making things happen in that timeframe, there was a problem. One of my colleagues told the manager in charge of the change "I'll show up at 8 AM if you want, but I'm not going to be productive until 11 AM anyhow. I'll clock out at 5 PM after getting 5-6 hours of work in, rather than clocking out at 8 PM and getting 8-9 hours in". The management let her keep her schedule.

If your partner needs to be working with external contacts during business hours, or if he is expected to perform customer service duties and be available when people are calling the phones, that's one thing. If he's the guy writing the code, maintaining the hardware, and making stuff happen, leave him be. Just because his schedule doesn't coincide with your schedule doesn't make his schedule wrong. How would you react if he asked you to conform your schedule to his?

Something you probably don't realize is that he's likely working around the clock - not just during office hours. You get to clock out at the end of the day and go home and not worry about the job until 9 AM the next day. A technical co-founder never gets the luxury, really - we're always watching, working, monitoring, and fixing. If something breaks at 2 AM after we've been asleep for a half hour, we get up to fix it. If we're having scaling issues, we work 36 hours straight to get infrastructure optimized and stable. A technical founder's job conforms to no schedule, recognizes no business hours, and takes no holidays.

If you want a happy tech partner, give him leeway in his schedule insofar as it doesn't actually negatively impact the business of the business. If he's not available for collaboration, is failing in his duties, etc, he needs to change something, because he's not doing his job. If it's just "morale", then honestly, get over it. If you make his job about showing up and having his butt in a chair from 9 AM-5 PM, then that's what you're going to get a - a butt in a chair. Established companies can afford that. A startup can't.


Well who died and made you all-knowing?

Let me guess. You're an MBA. You've probably spent lots of time polishing your presenting skills and becoming a good salesman, and polish and presentation are important to you.

Here's the thing - all that polish and poise is useless unless you actually have a product to sell. In order for that to happen, someone has to be creating something of value.

Welcome to how the other half lives.

Is he getting the job done? Do you have a product? Is it progressing? If you can answer yes to these questions, then please get over yourself. You're one of the founders - not the founder. No offense, but suits have a tendency to be seriously arrogant and think that the entire company revolves around them. It doesn't. Stay up until one in the morning trying to work around an obscure, undocumented bug in an unstable library sometime, and then see how you feel about coming in later in the day.

Also, at the risk of wandering into dangerous territory, from the name I gather you're Indian, and I'm going to guess you're Indian in the sense you actually where born and grew up there.

Guess what - you're not in India any more. Business is done differently around here. Unless someone is working in sales or customer service, or works hours so incredibly bizarre that they can't communicate with anyone face to face ever, there's absolutely no call for this overbearing, you-will-work-when-i-tell-you-too attitude.

He's a programmer - an educated, trained technical professional - not a floor sweeper. Treat him like a programmer.

You have an opportunity here. Please do the world a big favor and don't become yet another prick CEO.

See Also: http://paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html and http://paulgraham.com/opensource.html


Nice guess, but I'm not Indian and Vignesh isn't my real name. I'm also not an MBA. The real question here is, who made you all-knowing? ;)

I'm not a prick, I'm just an ambitious startup marketer trying to learn about how to improve relations with my dev! Instead of being hostile (and racist), try to be understanding and sympathetic. Who knows, maybe your prick CEO will promote you!


Stop seeing him as just a "dev", give him his due respect for being co-founder of a company and see things improve!


my dev!

No, you're a prick.


If you aren't a troll, how do you get promoted from co-founder?


Does he get the work done? If the answer is yes, what's the big deal?

The hours you work don't define your professionalism, at least not this century.


Is he not getting his share of the work done? That should be the measure of laziness--lack of performance--not at what hour he sits down at his desk.

I'm not aware of any studies showing that programming performance peaks between the hours of 9-5. What's the reason why you want to set this schedule for him?


I'm pretty surprised he hasn't quit already judging by your tone etc.

Is he really lazy in terms of productivity? Or does he just not behave in the way that you want him to? I'm betting it's the latter.

Developers rarely show up at 9. They often appear lazy. But guess what? While you're long gone, they're often working through the night.

It sounds like you just want a corporate worker drone developer who shows up in the office 9-5 and files his TPS reports.

You sound like an absolute nightmare to work with.


Assuming your co-founder is a capable techy, there is no reason why you find issue with when he works.

I work in a tech startup with 8 people and me being 1/3 of the tech team.

I come in to work at 7AM sometime, because I can't wait to see some ideas in code. Most days, I walk in at 9, when the regular check-in time here is 8:00. But, I also make sure that I put in my 8 hours on average IN THE office, so that I do not give an impression of being slack to my non-techy co-workers.

I also do couple of hours of work after going home, depending on the intensity of work and my own inclination to tinker with alternate ideas and technologies.

My boss knows this and appreciates this fully.

Just like you expect your co-founder to earn YOUR trust, you should also earn HIS trust by understanding what truly motivates him.

Unless you are doing some mundane corporate job, where everything is already predetermined before it lands in email box, having the flexibility to work whenever you want is a necessity.

This is typical Indian behaviour. Expecting "employees" to turn up on time. Let go of it. You are not running a manufacturing company. I sense deeper communication and trust issues here. If you are the "business" guy, $deity help you both.


"I have no recourse because we split the venture 50/50 (no vesting). If I want to continue on the project without him, he can block it. I've tried buying him out and he insists he's committed and will not sell under any circumstance. My only recourse is to quit and block him from taking the idea and running with it. Neither of these are admirable outcomes and I'd rather run the business as far as it can go with a lazy co-founder than end it in such an ugly fashion."

I'm sure someone here would absolutely love to work with your "co-founder". Hell, they may even give him some common human dignity as well as an interesting project.


I think you need to reassess what is truly good or bad for morale. The "ass-in-seat" mentality belongs in mega-corps and does more damage than good in a small team. As a founder, your goal should be to create a culture that encourages highly productive, self-managed individuals. You want to create a team that does more with less which requires trusting individuals to manage their time (ie. working hours).

Your question is regarding your co-founder's motivation but based on your tone and concerns, I would question if you have the motivation (or DNA) needed to run a startup. Not to say you are lazy; it seems your "values" are more in line with those of Big-5 Consulting or a Mega-Corp manager.


Don't judge him on how professional he is.

Do judge him on how the product's coming.


  What I really want is a decent fucking co-founder who can 
  show up at 9 (or 10 AM if he absolutely needs an extra hour 
  of sleep) and be a professional. Does any one have an idea 
  on how to motivate him to do this?
Honestly, I think you're as much at fault as he is. First, if you wanted to dictate each others hours, you should have made an agreement about that before hand. Sounds like you assumed he would keep to your schedule and he had different ideas. That's a communication problem that should have been resolved earlier, but wasn't.

That said, there's nothing unprofessional about him showing up at 10:00 or 11:00 or 12:00 or whenever.. AS LONG AS:

1. He's pulling his share as far as delivering results.

2. His physical presence in the office isn't specifically needed for something, such as a meeting. If there's a meeting or something on the schedule and he shows up late, then yes, that is unprofessional. But if he's meant to just show up and sit in a cube|office and write code, it really doesn't matter.

You're acting as though your personal standards for professionalism and punctuality are somehow objectively "the truth" and should apply universally. Guess what.. you're wrong. You can't just impose your standards and your will on everybody around you.

Sounds like you guys really just need to sit down and talk, maybe with a mediator of some sort (nothing official probably, maybe just a trusted 3rd party or advisor) and see it you can reach a mutually acceptable agreement.


This reads as if it were just written to troll HN. I sincerely hope so, for the sake of both hypothetical co-founders.


Increase your patience level. Lower your unnecessary expectations. Have a playful environment. Respect everybody's style. And agree that world doesn't move at your pace.

Step back a little. See if there is something you can fix in you rather than fixing something in other people.

I've gone through this situation, and I've come across this problem by letting the steam off, trusting people, and giving there own space as long as I'm making progress on product front.


What are you talking about!!! You call yourself a startup, you call your partner a co-fouder and at the same time you are bashing him. This means things are not well at your end. If you are soo disturbed with his attitude then the best way would be to seperate yourself from him otherwise not very sure how good your startup is going to be at the end. I think co-founder is one of "the" most important factors in a startup and you should start only when you actually find one and finding one means being totally in sync with his behavior and not going mad over it.


First, never ever ever do a startup without vesting and without a buy/sell agreement (I've always liked the shotgun clause: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shotgun_clause ).

Second, is he not working hard or just not showing up on time? If the latter, let him work the hours that he wants. If you didn't agree with the 8-6 expectations from the get-go, you've no right to impose it on him now. People work odd hours in startups. A lot of people are nocturnal.

If he's not working hard, trying to "run the business as far as it can go with a lazy co-founder" is a ridiculous plan. Negotiate a split. Agree to something like the shotgun clause or being bound by arbitration and get it done. A freeloading co-founder is too poisonous and a startup is too fragile.


I had a recent experience that was similar in some ways to Vignesh. Being the business guy, I hired a developer (employee level not co-founder) to write a software program for me. I ran into some of the same issues as Vignesh like lack of motivation from my developer. He had taken the time to educate me about how difficult it might be to estimate how long it would take to get the software built and so I understood that it wouldn't be reasonable to judge performance based solely on results. I also didn't care what time of day he worked. However, where we ran into issues was that he was never motivated enough to put in at least 20 hours per week like he originally agreed to. Instead he would give me a maximum of 10 hours in a week and often only 5. It was very frustrating because I was expecting on him to at least meet this standard, one which he had control over. That frustration came across to him at times and only made his motivation level even worse. The relationship only got worse and worse over time and we finally ended up parting ways.

The one thing that I am very grateful for is that before I got too far with working with him, we had a written agreement signed and in place that stipulated what would happen in case of certain eventualities. This made parting ways a lot less messy than it could have been.

One other lesson that I learned is that it's critical to understand what motivates the other person. If you can't understand his motivations and what's important to him, then you shouldn't be working with him. It's a big, big problem to have a co-founder or a key employee who lacks intrinsic motivation to get stuff done.

As a related question to the HN crowd, how many hours per week is it reasonable to expect a developer to work? Is 20 hours per week too much?


"What I really want is a decent fucking co-founder who can show up at 9 (or 10 AM if he absolutely needs an extra hour of sleep) and be a profesional"

and therein lies the problem ... he's the technical guy, you're the business guy, you're setting the same standards for him that you do for yourself, which is inherently wrong.

does he meet his targets??, if the answer is YES, then the problem is yours, not his.


Don't you think that there is a chance that your co-founder reads HN and that there is probably more than enough information in your post to identify yourself?

You might want to consider the term "professional" - I really don't think it means what you think it means. Posting this kind of stuff to a popular forum is far more unprofessional than anything you have accused your co-founder of.


Agreed with what everyone else is saying. A startup is not just a corporation writ small. In a startup, the only think that matters is results. Your complaints about morale and "presentation" don't belong in this world.

Let me ask you this: would you be willing to accept a much lower quality of work just to have him come in at 9am? If not, then why are you pushing the issue?


It sounds to me like you are a manager, and your co-founder is a technical person/hacker. You need to read these:

http://paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html

http://paulgraham.com/gh.html

Honestly, you are trying to manage your technical colleague, and you don't understand him. These articles, if you study them, will give you insights to help you firstly understand, and secondly to work effectively with him.

That would be a win for you both.


- I agree, it looks unprofessional: then hire some other guy to do the morning show.

- As a night owl myself: I can work in the morning (at least just enough to look professional), but it's like asking you to wake up in the middle of the night and work. At 3am: are you efficient? I guess not.

Contrarily, when I'm on my own schedule (awake after 10pm), when I get in the zone, it's like adrenalin in my veins. Can't be compared.

Don't be that guy, there is no compromise here.


Unprofessional is a weasel word to say "I don't like this behavior but I don't have a good reason."


Don't give your developer any schedule, let him work the way most comfortable for him. A developer is a creative person, you can't schedule their productivity. A developer can go 3 days with no productivity and then spend one night finishing all the work. Just keep up with him to make sure his targets are suitable for you and the business. Then just let him flow.


We're also in the early stages of being a start-up and there's also a big discrepancy in the personalities and working styles of all the founders. The thing is you just have to accept it and push through it.

The only thing that matter is the results. If you have issues with your partner, deal with it in a way so it doesn't interfere with the operational aspect of the business. For instance, myself and my one partner have a significant personality clash; we used to live together last year and we'd clash a lot. We came to a great arrangement - when tension reached a point where debate wouldn't work anymore, we'd fight it out. Not a real fight, but a physical tussle none-the-less. No punches where thrown but there were bruises and scratches afterward. However all our tension would have been defused.

I'm not saying you should wrestle with your partners, but find a lateral way to defuse the unnecessary retardants that are limiting your overall productivity, or in your case, the company's morale.


First of all Vignesh, imho you posted this in the wrong site. Has grammaton so eloquently put: you´re a suit, you´re in the other line. You should seek advice in a suit´s portal or whatever.

Don´t get me wrong guys, there great advices in here. And I learned and confirmed some of my believes with you. We, for instance, hired a developer and we work objective oriented. The only thing we ask is, somewhere in the day, everyone comes by the office for planning and helping.

I´m a designer, and work closely with developers and it works great , because our set of minds are very close (creative to creative). I mean, there are and always will be friction between production and marketing/sails. I guess I was hoping that Vignesh, as a minority in here, would be treated with a little more respect (troll? Prick?).

For those who truly helped, I apologise this rant.

Peace. :)


If your only standard for be a professional is showing up, maybe you should reconsider why you started your own company instead of working for MegaCorp.

If you are the "business guy", It is your job to build the reputation, and his job to build the product.


Flagged. This is a troll. (yes, there are people who are this stupid, but no, they don't post messages like that to this board)


Honestly, I don't mean to be rude, but maybe you should get out of the startup world - or work really hard on getting away from the 9-5 mentality. Startups are about ultra-productivity period!


Why does showing up in the AM matter? Is there something that has to happen in the AM vs. the PM? If he puts in his 12 hour day starting at noon does it really make any difference?


There is nothing in your post that suggest he isn't doing a great job or getting a ton done.

Assuming there isn't a problem with performance - perhaps he enjoys working half of his hours when you are not there. So he can productively get through code without constant startup issues.

I mean this with no disregard to the importance of things other than coding - but from experience these issues can make it tough to stay on schedule and get through the mountains of coding necessary.

A schedule like his could balance these items out.


Set deadlines and monthly targets. Also for the interns. If he meets them, everyone will see he is productive, no matter when he shows up and morale will not be affected.


Measure progress by what has been accomplished, not by what is easy to measure.

(product and business dev, not the timeclock)


You're making the assumption that not showing up at 9 means the guy is not motivated - which clearly is probably totally unrelated. Help him strive by staying open-minded.

Something that will be beneficial to you: learn about Non-Violent Communication (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1892005034). You're clearly making a lot of evaluations/interpretations, instead of checking the facts.


The funniest part of all this is that if he would've posted on an MBA forum everyone would agree with him and bash the hacker!


Devs work weird hours. As much as I want to be in the office at the same time as the other devs in our team, I cannot impose my own hours on other people.

How about just agree that all of you guys would be in the office 4-5 hours (e.g. 12nn-5pm) at the same time everyday? That way, there is flexibility on the work schedule.


Is the objective for him to come in on time? Or for the work to be done? I guess you are having buyer's remorse. Do you guys have a way of seeing progress in the product? That would be the first thing I would do. This way you can see if the working habits need to change or not.


You asked this in the right place. I hope we don't come off as hostile, or simply defending a fellow hacker. This truly seems like a misunderstanding of personality types. Try communicating better with your partner, and focus on what is really needed for success.


Don't feed the trolls.


Lots of good advice already given. If you can't get over yourself, just pretend he is working a second shift.


Either work with his style or fire him. It's that simple.


How does showing up at 9 am make one more motivated?


It sounds like Vignesh's 2010 is going to as successful as BP, Tylenol, and Blockbuster


You can't.


Also, for the record, I'd like to note my hours are 9-9 not 9-5.


What is it that you do for 12 hours (genuinely curious)?


trolling :)


The tone of your post ("or 10 AM if he absolutely needs an extra hour of sleep") indicates to me that you might have an unhealthy perspective on sleep. Sleep is incredibly important to the consolidation of memory, and research indicates that the vast majority of consolidation might occur around the very last REM cycle! In other words, his creativity, intelligence, and memory will all be improved through extra sleeping.


More advice: if you do part ways, I woudn't worry about or do any fighting over him "taking the idea". In all honesty, despite what the USPTO might have you think, nobody can own an idea. Lots and lots and lots of people have been independently coming up with about the same exact ideas for centuries. The trick is execution, and timing, and luck, and polish, and firing on all (or enough anyway) cylinders. I have dozens of notebooks full of ideas --- sitting on a shelf, and therefore worthless. There's a very very high likelihood that there is somebody already out there executing on the same idea as you are now. They might be a little ahead or behind, or a little different in various ways, and you will never escape that contextual reality. The trick is what you do, and what you make of things.

Fighting over ownership of an idea will just lead to more grief for you, for him, and for the community -- except for lawyers, because they'll love the billable hours thank you very much!


I know pg is an advocate of 2+ founder teams, and that there are some arguments in favor of it, and I respect his experience, but in my mind and from what I've observed in life this post is like a poster boy example for why the ideal is to have only 1 founder.

Just start with 1 founder, with 100% equity. Then incrementally grow it out from there, see if you get traction, etc. If you need to raise cash, exchange it for equity but still retain as much equity and control as you can. It's ideal to always have a single "benevolent dictator" who has final say in all things, for cases exactly like this. As soon as you start bringing in a 2nd person, a 3rd, more equity partners, especially big ones like in this case, all kinds of seemingly intractable problems can arise.

Can 2+ founder/partner startups work? Of course. But this situation is a classic example of what can go wrong with it.


I think you may both be right. Would pg fund this team, or would he be picking 2+ teams after filtering out all the ones that don't work together well?


Vignesh- I think you're jumping the gun by assuming he's lazy. As you're reading here, a LOT of developers are not normal when it comes to hours. Instead of jumping to conclusions, why don't you work out a dev schedule that you can both commit to and judge him by that alone. I suspect you're making the morale issue out to be more than it is. You are being too self-centric and not really understanding how developers live. Give this another chance and do some serious self-reflection, and ask yourself if he's truly lazy or if you're just being inflexible and anachronistic in your assumptions about work time and productivity.


first impression about what might be wrong here:

1. just moved into offices, now you have a burn rate and clock is ticking, increasing pressure. maybe should have stayed working at home/Starbucks

2. have an intern and one who needs guidance. why this early? the more people you have the more complex things get, and in the case of your tech co-founder sounds like a greater burden on him. he may not like coming in now when the intern is there because the intern will interrupt him and so he'd prefer to work at home or at later times of the day

3. he's your 50% co-founder and main tech guy, NOT your employee. if I were in that situation, I'd consider myself as not really having a boss. at best, a partner. it's true he needs to deliver and you need to have a mutually trusting relationship or it's going to fail. there are many downsides to a startup but one upside is the ability to have no bullshit, no bureaucracy, no boss, and work whenever and wherever and however you want, as long as the work gets done and you move ahead at a sufficient rate. If you really and truly think he's not pulling his own weight then the earlier you can part ways with him the better. None of us here can truly know enough details about your situation to say for sure whether this situation is your fault or his fault, but if the trust is gone it may be best to bail.


If the dev is getting the job done, let him work 1 hr a day if he wants that. If he is slacking off a lot then don't hire interns have him pick up his slack and show you why he can't get the job done and needs help.

If the dev is really not being effective, try setting deadlines, and giving him more interesting problems to solve. Don't require any hrs, in fact let him know that if he can meet the deadline with 30 minutes of work per week then he earns himself a vacation for the rest of the time. However make sure his estimates are reasonable. Basically become a "slave driver". Note: DO NOT MICROMANAGE. Give him a "what must be done this week" thing, and check up at the end of the week, or before you leave every other day (and by check-up I mean ask him if hes on target, facing problems, etc, 5 minutes max).

If all does not work, cut your losses.

Regarding the intern and yourself. Question yourself/intern as to the interaction needs between everyone. If you all need to be together at the beginning of the day to discuss something, then ask your developer if he can teleconference in the morning, then go back to sleep (if possible). Let the intern work whatever hours he/she wants if its also development work and not client-related. Remember measure productivity VS hours. I find that I can be more productive in 1 hr on the TRAIN with my DINKY NETBOOK AND NO INTERNET than 5 hrs in the office or even at home. And usually after the train ride anything that I haven't solved is already well discussed in my mind and 20 minutes of google + typing solves that when I get home. I can't mention this enough, if the productivity is not suffering then let him be.

Have you considered flipping the work day? Would you be happier coming in in the PM?

The only time anyone needs to be in the office is for people to communicate, and to keep track of people, if minimal communication is necessary there is no need for fixed hrs especially in a startup.


Simple suggestion, have the interns show up in the pm the same time as the developer..




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