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My Tech Cofounder Quit
63 points by IpxqwidxG on Mar 2, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments
Committed all my savings and blood into it. We had been full time for the past 8 months. He got a compelling offer from a famous company. Quit.

// Edit 1: Thanks for the helpful comments

// Edit 2: This is what I have at the moment:

https://bubbl.in (A Youtube of Flipbooks)

It is production ready. Rather just short of MVP.

// Edit 3: If you're in love with RoR/Javascript and Books, and wish to jump full time into this, please feel free to write to me at marvin at bubbl dot in.

// Edit 4: I do the design, HTML and photoshop. Can code a little too but still learning.

I'm sorry to hear this: it sucks and I hope you find a path through this.

Important question for future learning, though: let's say that you were production ready, today. If you're already maxing out your savings, how could you take this product to market with no budget to pay yourselves a living wage until you can demonstrate enough traction to raise a seed round?

I know that bootstrapping is sexy, but human willpower is finite - especially once you're paying for groceries on your credit card and the fear kicks in.

Pete makes an excellent point. When I was doing contract web development, I worked on way too many projects where the idea person spent all their money on the initial development and had nothing left over to run the business. It was depressing, which is one of the big reasons I decided to get back into product development.

Excellent point. If you find yourself struggling with cash, you won't be able to think straight, let alone being creative. "Working under pressure" and "accomplishing" is cute, but the odds are stacked against you. Not only will your venture suffer, your personal life will hurt.

Good luck with your venture!

That sucks.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. This is why combat teams debrief after actions.

What made the offer a reasonable alternative for the tech person?

Were they always more inclined toward salary than risk?

Were they ever all in? If so what was the turning point?

Did they feel adequately in control of the startup's future?

How was equity allocated?

Why was communication such that this was a surprise?

The answers won't change the current situation. They will prepare you for the next venture.

It sounds like you're kinda upset now, so I'd encourage you to be very judicious in how you're handling this. I'm sure some people who might be interested in this project are thinking, "Hey, if I decide to get involved am I going to end up one day on the front page of Hacker News under the title 'Fucked'?"

Remember, Google is forever.

And people's attention span are short. Good business isn't about holding to the past.

What have you been doing for the last 8 months while he worked on the product. Hopefully you have built up relationships and other important knowledge that are still valuable. If so, you should be able to make a compelling case to new prospective cofounder.

Might be harder if you're just an idea guy.

Good luck. It's a long hard road either way.

Something from a few weeks ago on HN. "How To Know if Your Cofounder Will Quit on You" https://medium.com/what-i-learned-building/96540ba28355

There was also a story 3-6 months ago here. The story was the co-founder quit while OP spent all his time and money in the product. Boom. That was it for him. Another story was the co-founder quit the night before pitching to investor...

First of all I am sorry for you.

But what exactly are you trying to achieve with this post? Get Advice? Find a new partner on HN? Just post it as a cautionary tale for other people?

Sometimes you just want to vent to a community of like minded people, and possibly hear what others have to say, especially during or after an unfortunate situation.

Maybe another question to ask is, "What exactly are you trying to achieve with this product?"

The "Youtube of Flipbooks" tagline makes no sense. It's not really clear what this is trying to express.

The term "flipbooks" also seems to be misused. That term already refers to printed books with pictures that differ slightly from one page to the next. Rapidly flipping through the pages ends up rendering a crude animation. The term "flipbook" is also sometimes used to describe books aimed at children where there's a flap of paper or cardboard that can be flipped up to reveal some image or text underneath. Trying to add a new meaning only leads to confusion.

And while I understand it's still a work in progress, the experience is not very good. Even with a large desktop monitor and a fullscreen browser window, scrolling is required to view the complete pages. The page flipping is also rather distracting. And the content available so far is not very enticing, I'm afraid to say. The low-quality images used in some of the books does not help.

So I have a hard time seeing what value this site provides. The freely available content isn't very appealing, and the reading experience itself is very poor. If the experience won't attract and keep users, then it's unlikely that publishers will be interested. If publishers aren't interested, then users will additionally not be interested. And both of those factors will, of course, directly impact the potential profitability of such a venture.

I think that every aspect of this offering needs to be reworked, unfortunately. Which leads me back to the original question, "What exactly are you trying to achieve with this product?"

This might possibly be the best thing to happen to you.

A good time to think over, prioritize launch over features, etv. 8 months is too long to take for a mvp. What you are building is most certainly not a mvp.

I have gone through similar stage, but it has only made me wiser.

All the very best.

So, Goodreads with a publish option and a share button? I'm trying to get a handle on what the business here actually is. Pitch me.

I'm a CTO for hire (currently doing two other startups, but both are already launched and it's mostly maintenance and a predictable diet of feature requests, tweaks, etc.). Email is in my profile. Most of the time I do things that are way more technically challenging, but who knows?

Hey Erich! Long time no speak.

I hope you don't mind some honest feedback when I say that your reply clearly means well but comes off sounding arrogant.

You start off by insulting the guy's concept (keep in mind, he's having a rough day) and then suggest that you might come down from the mountain and rescue him, even though it'd be beneath you.

I don't know. I know your on the level and really nice in person. But I think you're better than this reply.

Well, given your feedback, I'd delete it if I could—that was definitely not my intent, although I can see how it could look that way. I appreciate the feedback greatly, as well as the gentle way you delivered it. :)

Right on. Score +1 for civilized discourse! :)

Free books online. Didn't scribd do that already?

Minus the fancy page turning animation, which is very cool, but might get annoying once the novelty wears off in any case.

How will you make money, or is it just VC bait?

If the idea is any good, you will attract another tech partner. I guess that's the point of the post?

If it doesn't work out, consider doing lean(er) startup next time.

This is a complete kick in the balls. Which is pretty much how startup life goes - one day you're up the next you're kicked in the balls. It's a roller-coaster. The trick is to pick yourself up and always have contingencies. Now this is a risk that's hard to plan for, but you should have a bunch of contacts you can go after. Put your salesman hat on and go hustle for help. You may end up giving away more equity than you would like (and I hope you have cliff vesting for your dearly departed), whatever the case if you believe in your idea this is simply the cost of doing business and if it's going to be a billion dollar exit who cares if you're a few million short. Good luck, go hustle.

I hope you have a vesting agreement with your co-founder, so you have equity to find a replacement. The product looks almost ready and pretty decent, so I'm sure there are willing candidates to finish it up.

> Committed all my savings and blood into it.

Whenever I read comments like this I get flashbacks to the people deriding the stupidity of the people who had 500k in Bitcoin on Mt. Gox.

Yeah putting your life savings into any one venture is generally a recipe for disaster


You're misunderstanding. There's nothing wrong with risk and adventure but there is very much wrong with investing everything you own. Just as it's unwise to invest that much in Bitcoin, it's unwise to invest that much in your startup.

So... by that logic, risk and adventure is great, as long as the risk is not actually risky for you as an individual. Which rules out any meaningful risk whatsoever for 95% of americans.

Yes indeed. That doesn't mean my logic is wrong, it in fact means it's consistent with reality!

You might want to disclose your product (URL if you have one) or at least the idea. Some one from HN might be interested in taking up the position.

Two lessons from situations like this...

1. Prefer freelancers to co-founders.

Having a technical co-founder is sexy but partnerships are tricky and you don't need to start with one. Using freelancers isn't risk free (nothing is) but there are a few advantages:

- You will probably have a lot more control over cost and schedule. A lot of freelance developers are willing to work on a fixed price basis if you have a reasonable enough spec, and in my experience freelancers are usually far better at estimating cost and schedule because it's virtually impossible to be successful as a freelancer if you can't develop cost and schedule estimates. If you encounter a freelance develop who can't provide cost estimates and schedules you're not dealing with a professional.

- If you select somebody who has been working as a freelancer full time for at least several years straight and who has happy client references (ask for these!), you probably don't have to worry about getting an email letting you know that they're joining Google. Actually at a certain point somebody who has been freelancing for a while is not going to be considered an attractive employee by a major company except under rare circumstances.

- Finding good freelance developers can be difficult, but in this market it's less difficult than finding a good developer who wants to work full time for a startup/company as a cofounder/employee.

2. Carefully consider your stack.

Some of the sexiest stacks (RoR, Node, etc.) are a bootstrapped founder's worst nightmare. The labor pools are smaller, and the rates are higher. LAMP isn't sexy but in a bind you're not going to have a problem finding a half decent freelance LAMP developer at a reasonable rate.

I'd strongly disagree with #1, and without #1 #2 becomes less pressing.

The reason is that a startup is basically an extended learning process: its goal is to learn enough about the market and technology to bridge them, and then capture that knowledge in an organization. If you're employing a freelancer to build the project, then that learning is captured in their head, not in your organization. If it looks like you actually have a good idea (most people don't), then there is nothing stopping them from building your MVP and then choosing not to renew the contract, and instead going into business with a competing product that captures all the knowledge & experience they gained building yours.

This is exactly what Mark Zuckerburg did to the Winklevoss twins. While the latter did manage to sue for some small piece of the company - whose position would you rather be in?

1. The goal of a startup is to build a viable business.

2. When you're bootstrapping you don't have the luxury of an "extended learning process."

3. There is absolutely no reason a non-technical founder can't "learn enough about the market and technology to bridge them." Just because you can't build an app doesn't mean you don't understand technology, and just because you can build an app doesn't mean you can understand a market.

4. If you're relying on a technical co-founder with no domain expertise to bridge your market and technology for you, you're going to fail 99% of the time because it's not going to happen.

5. Notwithstanding the point that a co-founder can run off with your idea too, if you're only coming to the table with an idea you're probably doomed anyway. It's not about ideas. It's about domain expertize, industry relationships, sales know-how and the motivation to execute. Most freelancers and people who are going to come on board as co-founders would be running their own startups if they had those things.

6. Facebook/Zuck are usually unrealistic examples for most founders.


Starting up with freelancer is not good idea. The freelancer model will work only if you have a fixed spec which is not the case with most of the tech startup. You always have to take market feedback and quickly incorporate into your product.

I don't have a "startup" but I run a business that utilizes freelancers. The idea that freelancers can't work in an agile manner and respond quickly is nonsense. Several of my best freelancers are on retainer. I lock in availability and they love the guaranteed income.

Sure, I don't have 40 hours a week from each of them but there's nothing magical about a 40 hour work week. Agile sprints are time bound and time bound doesn't mean "40 hours".

By the way, most startups don't have an idealized feedback loop where market feedback is coming in at a rapid pace on a constant basis and your developers are busy 5 days a week responding to that feedback.

Most startups take longer to get going than the founders would like. If you're paying a salary to your technical co-founder a lot of it is likely going to go to waste because you probably won't be able to utilize them 100%. And even if they're not taking a salary they're going to get bored (and might jump ship) if they're expecting things to take off overnight.

What actually is so technically challenging about this app? Any machine learning? AI? Any complex algorithm?

If no, just save some money, hire some cheap developer in India when you have some saved up, or even better learn coding and work on it when you've learned enough. This ain't no Wolfram Alpha. It's probably 2 from 1-10 in terms of technical complexity.

It may be best to learn some basic coding yourself - ask your cofounder to show you the ropes. It's almost a professional courtesy to give you a knowledge transition before they take off. Also, have you considered asking them to help you out on a part time basis moving forward? A lot of stuff might be in their head so it never hurts....

Learn yourself some code!!!

That's important, and I'd encourage him to do that long-term, but in the short term it isn't going to help him hold on to his business.

If you did not have a clear, written vesting agreement, you should contact your quitting co-founder now and align expectations, then get them in writing.

You should do that whithin days because, now that he's quitting, there's a nonzero chance he'll just sign off any rights he has to you, for free. Just say you need to give out the equity to replace him, so this needs to be official. Hopefully, you parted on good terms.

Sorry to add to your worry pile, but if that remains unclear then a couple years down the road, when you're about to exit, he could show up still expecting to own half the company.

Good luck!

Lets say your tech co-founder did not quit. How would you get to profitability?

Sorry to hear. Out of curiosity, did you do anything else to open up sales channels or distribution or remove liabilities? I assume your tech guy was the only one coding.

A company is an entity. And as such should run without it's founders over time. Sounds like you didn't de-risk the company for a long time until a potential liability become real.

You are building a tech product so either you should learn to code or have backup devs that could take the slack and keep on plowing forward.

This sucks and Im sorry for the situation you're in. I was in a reverse situation a year ago where I was pushed out of a company where I actually started working on an MVP. That situation taught me a lot about core founders of any project. It showed me that founders need to be 100% committed and bought in/sold out. A few questions I would ask to gauge whether or not your co-founder was committed would be:

1. Did he invest any money into the project or just time?

2. If you quit would he run with the project without you?

3. Did you treat him like a co-founding member or like an engineer that you just found and put on the team.

With regard to #1. The current project that I'm co-founding with a good friend is in a position where we are both committing time and financial resources to completing the project. Both of us are taking 100% responsibility. There is true palpable excitement as we are working on the project and we are both individually motivated to push the project forward. If either of us need access to an online product (Version Control, Databases, Software program, IDE), we'll chat about it and he or I will buy it.

With regard to #2. If he wouldn't continue running the project without you, I would question how loyal he was to the project. I was offered a co-founder/CTO position a month ago and I had to be 100% honest with the founders and let them know that while I think the project is amazing and needed, I didn't wake up thinking about solving the problem. Some developers might not be able to communicate how they truly feel; An exit to another company is a clear sign that they probably weren't truly passionate about the project.

With regard to #3. I met a kid who just came to San Francisco late last year and was looking for an iOS developer to build a product. I could clearly tell from conversation that he saw me as a developer building his product and not as a partner working on a project together. Every idea I had was immediacy shut down with no room for discussion and I was even told at one point that one of my ideas was "Fucking stupid." I'm not sure about your relationship with your co-founder but this may have been an issue from his point of view.

I hope you find a new cofounder, one that is passionate about solving the problem that you're trying to solve.

Listen brother...most of us have learned this same damn way...if not under worse circumstances! You will be better for this, learn who to better trust, learn to NEVER do anything without paperwork, etc.

Trust me on this.

I'm still cleaning the Vaseline out of my ass from the last time! But that was quite a while ago and I'm as happy as I've ever been and (thank God) smarter for it.

Trust me!

Good luck and go kick ass!

Can't say I understand the function/purpose of the site, but you're not screwed. You're probably better off. Anyone who flakes right before launch probably isn't the best character to be on the team, if you ask me. That's pretty dirty. However, I don't know the exact circumstances, and he could be legitimate for his decision.

No tracking after 8 months? Tell me about the budget?

Also, why are you not coding? There are many dev tools for for people w/o C/S background. Why should he be the only one working.

Honestly not having $ is not a tragedy, lots of people don't have $ to hire techs or other $ for other things. You don't have a problem, you just don't have $ to solve the problem.

Oh man, that sucks. Don't give up (of course)! Fingers crossed for you to soon finding a replacement.

As one of the co-founders of http://Founder2be.com, an online platform for finding co-founders, I would of course encourage you to give it a try.

Fingers crossed either way and don't give up!

If you need help reach out. We might be willing to help you finish and get launched without any up front fees.

What a funny and small world.

My last start-up failed but did not fold. After I exited, they did a complete pivot and became LookBookHQ. It seems like Bubbl.in is very similar to LookBookHQ in concept and execution.


You'll either make it work or you won't. Find a way around it, learn how to code, or quit. Those are the reality and you have to pick one and go with it. If you do happen to stick with it, here is some feedback for you:

- I'm not totally sure what's going on by the short headline. Generally short headlines are the goal but they should also tell me what it is so I have little to no uncertainty about what the goal of the product is. In this case the write throws me off because that's a huge process in itself. Am I actually writing books with the app or do I just upload my finished book? Can I still use the product if I'm not writing? etc.

- The discover great books button takes me down a little but it's not perfect that it's taking me to the next section. The next section has a lot of book covers but I'm not sure what to do with them still. The title is on the books so that may not be necessary but I think possibly having the category underneath would be beneficial. For editors picks there sure seems to be a lot of books which leads me to believe they aren't the editors picks. They seem to go on forever, then what am I supposed to do?

- I click on a book and now what? I see a huge cover of the book with a little image to the right with the authors name. If I wasn't extremely curious I wouldn't know the resize bar underneath resizes the cover and even then what am I supposed to do? It needs to be clear I can read through the book. Again I randomly pressed arrow keys and it opened the book.

- While the animations and all that are nice, all I want to do is read the damn book. There's a ton of wasted space by having the other page take up a big portion of the real estate and when I zoom out the text gets smaller. All I want to do is read, I don't give a shit about fancy page turns or graphics. I shouldn't have to scroll and squint to read a page. Maybe the ideal experience is only showing enough text to make a comfortable reading experience and use the arrow keys to go to the next page when I'm done, like on a kindle.

- All I see is a login button and not sign up button. While it may be obvious to some users to click login in order to sign up, you have to assume most users are somewhat dumb and not curious. I have no idea why I should sign up for an account, where to sign up for account at, or how that will benefit me when I do. Why the hell do you have a login with Facebook button when it doesn't actually log me in? I still have to create a username and password.

- The writing screen has the same issues as reading. It's cluttered, it looks sloppy, and you could've made this look amazing by going with a simplistic approach. Where do I add a cover? I published with no content and now I'm not sure what to do. I JUST WANT TO TYPE. Make it easy for me to just type, look at medium or svtle and see how they do an amazing job at it. Copy and do something similar to start, no gimmicks or fake pages. Fuck pages we are online now, think different.

- The user screen isn't obvious at all as to what I should be doing. The describe yourself text doesn't indicate any type of text field and like before we have to assume most users are oblivious to current trends. Why is there a My Flipbooks section and then I see a list of books on the right? A lot of space and I'm not sure what's going on.

- There should be padding under the black user section between it and the book cover image. The paper icon in the top nav bar doesn't tell me what it is or why I should click it, it should have a plus sign or something.

- The 'bookstand' has the same issues as the 'editors picks' because they are the exact same thing. They need categories and I need to be able to filter and peruse. You may not be there yet technically but just saying. Let me discover books that are interesting to me. How are you different than even Goodreads or Google? Let users tag books and let me search by those tags. Startups, business, econ, fiction, etc.

- My homescreen dashboard is completely empty. It looks pathetic, make me feel better about having an empty dashboard. Even text like 'hey I see you don't have any books yet, how about getting started here?' or maybe I don't want to be a writer but I want to have collections of books. Don't assume I'm going to be writing when I'm just looking and collecting.

Ok, I'm done with this brain dump. I hope it helps. As with all things, if you're passionate enough about it, you'll find a way to push through and make it work and when you do consider these issues. :)

Agree with a number of these points. First off, isn't the main goal creating flip books and reading flip books? I poked around with reading a few books, and the experience was flawed.

1. You're using the old gimmicky page turn animations. I've never been a fan of these, and I don't think I'm alone. It would be much better to simply flip to the next page if I click the right side, or flip to the previous page if I click the left side. Optionally, you could add arrows, or setup the clicks for bottom right and bottom left corners.

2. I can click the edge of the page to go ahead one. I can't go to the previous page, unless I drag the page across.

3. Page turn animations got stuck once in a while, and the animation would be following my mouse, when it wasn't clicked. Then if I did click, I'd have two page turn animations moving at once.

4. It looks like a traditional book, forced into my widescreen monitor. If it's zoomed in, the bottom half of the book is cut off, so I need to scroll up and down constantly. If it's zoomed out, the book is a little box in the center of my screen.

5. I have no idea how many pages are in a book, or the percentage I'm done reading. Is this 10 pages, or 500 pages? That's kind of an important question.

6. The cover images on the homepage are pretty catchy, and I clicked on a few books because the art style or title caught my eye. A suggestion would be something like, http://i.imgur.com/YxdZgW3.jpg, where you have categories in a left column, search on top, and book covers on the right.

7. Center the page you're reading. For example, take a look at http://www.20thingsilearned.com/en-US. It suffers from the same page turning issues, but the book is centered when reading, and the left side simply fades off the screen. It also gives you a few thumbnails at the bottom and a table of contents, which is a nice extra.

8. Why not display multiple pages at once? Why leave the back of every page blank? Currently when I open your first featured book, I see http://i.imgur.com/BeaNf3B.jpg. Why don't I see something like, http://i.imgur.com/0YolAY3.jpg, where I get two pages at once to take better advantage of my widescreen? Or, you could even go three pages wide, http://i.imgur.com/lUs2aYl.jpg. I also added a simple arrow to click on the right.

In short, although I like the concept of creating and reading books online, the user experience is a little poor. I would never use the site to read a book in its current state. Nonetheless, I think there is some potential, but you really need to focus on the user experience for reading books.

Another thing to do with the blank left page might be to use it for the thumbs/page counts/other possibly desired info. Maybe a notes section for that page?

This is great feedback, thank you!

Yes desktops aren't very suitable for book reading -- can't lie down and read, mouse feels clunky and a portrait book is pushed into a landscape screen. Yet a lot of people do read on their desktops. I have noted all the inputs from you to optimize it better for the desktop.

Bubblin currently is iPad first.

We are not only responsive but also maintain the presentation/story telling aspect of the book page-by-page no matter which device you're on (Supported on 42 Android/mobile devices). Sorry about the stuck-mouse-click bug though :(

I will fix it soon.

It does help a lot. Thanks for taking the time to look at Bubblin.

- Marvin

No problem. You can at least fill your immediate time with fixing some of these as they are mostly design issues and then when you find a new dev you can have a list ready to go.

I am on it, already.

You needn't signup to read books on bubblin. So when you signed up you're mostly looking at it like a "writer/creator" of books. That should explain the internal interface a bit.

But I do agree that user on-boarding or it has to be dead simple.

What is that you mean by "Youtube of Flipbooks"?

Unlike Amazon or other distribution platforms we sort of broadcast books online. So the reader doesn't have to download or manage it before he/she could start reading.

It also means community aspect, more eyeballs to early writers/freelancers who want wider readership and simpler publishing that works just like blogs. etc. etc.

That's about it.

It's not the end. It's just the beginning. You will have to invest time into learning to code, or convincing others to code for you in exchange for cash. Keep your head up and don't let this bump in the road stop you from making your dream(s) a reality.

nice development. Noticeably that the guy had some chops. At the same time this startup's value comes from design and selling/hustling with technical aspects being secondary - i.e. the development part could as well be freelanced/outsourced, ie. there is no technical "secret sauce" here, and thus pure technical person doesn't really have a stake.

as a developer, he probably first thought about quitting the moment after you suggested the page flip animation.

all things aside, I don't see how these is room for this product with kindle and ibooks already well established. I know you can't create your own "flip books" through these services, but not everyone is an author.

just my critical feedback — I find it's hard to come by.

You have .in domain. Are you targeting only Indian market? IMO, you should try to get .com if you want to go global.

I think it's meant to be like "delicio.us" or "bit.ly" -- the company name is Bubblin'.

That's terrible! What is your plan B?

You may be up to something really cool. Don't give up. @joshmlewis made a good list of things you should review.

Good Luck

Looks like it uses Rails & Boiler? Why not outsource the missing bits, get it to MVP and explore options?

How can we help?

is your product done?

Product is never done. The real question is does the OP have an MVP? After visiting the site it looks like he does.

A prototype is ready, but a few modules are left.

Hey are you Indian?

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