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Ask HN: How to overcome the fear of doing more than your co-founder?
40 points by Envec83 on Aug 18, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments
I am a developer/entrepreneur, and whenever I start a new project I tend to work pretty hard on it (i.e., 10+ hours per day, six days a week). I am already doing fine financially, so if I launch a new project it's because it has the potential to solve a big problem and consequently to earn good money, that is why I get so motivated.

The first time I had a co-founder things didn't work out, exactly because I felt I was doing a lot more than my co-founder. For instance, once we had the prototype done we started pitching it to clients, but for every 10 clients I pitched the product my co-founder would pitch to 1. I decided to abort the project as I didn't want to do 80% of the work while earning only 50% of the profits. In this case my co-founder was also a developer.

After that experience I had the opportunity to co-found products with other people, but I always backed down for the same reason, I was afraid the other person wouldn't be able to keep up with me, so I would end up doing most of the hard work. This fear gets amplified when the co-founder is not a technical person, which means I'll certainly need to take care of the development aspect myself, while the other person focuses on the business aspects, which in my opinion are much less demanding on software related projects (at least in the early days).

And to be clear, I do know how to manage the business aspects too, so it's not like without a business co-founder I would be lost.

My questions:

1. Psychological Aspect: How do I overcome this fear?

2. Practical Aspect: How do I structure things with my co-founders so that I don't end up doing most of the hard work?




1. You don't. This is a legitimate fear. You get through it through communication. You say to the other person:

"In the past, when I've co-founded projects;

I felt I was doing a lot more than my co-founder. For instance, once we had the prototype done we started pitching it to clients, but for every 10 clients I pitched the product my co-founder would pitch to 1. I decided to abort the project as I didn't want to do 80% of the work while earning only 50% of the profits."

If the response is something like "Well, I'm really just looking for a fun project to do after work..." keep looking - you have different objectives and motivations.

As an aside, the best co-founder relationships are formed on complimentary skill sets. You can do what they can't (or struggle with), and vice versa. As such, I would encourage you to find a sales person/designer/hustler, as opposed to another developer.

2. Very clear upfront communication of exactly your previously stated concerns over coffee or (ideally) drinks, and then vesting.

Also, this statement is completely, painfully wrong: "while the other person focuses on the business aspects, which in my opinion are much less demanding on software related projects"

I would never co-found a project or company with someone who ever said this to me. You're saying to the other person "No matter how good you are, or what partnerships you make, or how you market this project, or which key customers you close, or what relevant market research you do, or who you hire, or which investors you close, your performance can never measure up to the demanding schedule and work of the developer," which is a pretty bad place to start forming a partnership with another person.


> As an aside, the best co-founder relationships are formed on complimentary skill sets. You can do what they can't (or struggle with), and vice versa. As such, I would encourage you to find a sales person/designer/hustler, as opposed to another developer.

On the face of it, this advice seems reasonable. But this advice will result in precisely the asymmetry to OP is worried about. If you have a technology product, I strongly discourage you from taking on a non-technical cofounder.

I made a huge mistake co-founding a company with someone whom I thought had a skill set that would compliment mine. He was, of course, a non-technical. While I coded for 90 hours a week trying to build an MVP, he did thought experiments, worried about competitors, and fretted about the color of our logo. In short, he did very little to move the product forward other than arbitrarily tweaking design specifications (before we had MVP and were even able to A/B test or validate with users). It was an extremely counterproductive and demoralizing experience.

This may sound like an edge case, but I meet people all the time whose startups failed because the team couldn't get along. This is usually caused by one person feeling like they're doing all the work. And that's usually because one person IS doing all the work - the other person is a non-technical cofounder, and can't do much meaningful work, only look busy by trying to get twitter followers, having lunch meetings with reporters, and doing competitor analysis - all work that is meaningless if you don't have an MVP you can use to validate and iterate toward product-market fit.

My advice is simple: find a technical cofounder who also has the confidence to pitch. Find a technical cofounder who can help validate an MVP and iterate it to product-market fit. Find a technical cofounder who isn't daunted by needing to pick up new skills. This is a startup. You're looking for generalists, not specialists. Whether someone can code is a good litmus test for whether they are serious about doing tech startups, or merely dabbling.


My advice still holds, and yes, it is also completely reasonable.

You found a terrible co-founder. A terrible co-founder, business or otherwise, will generate terrible outcomes.

One thing that is very important to understand is that a great business co-founder is as rare (if not rarer) than a great technical co-founder. If you happen to find someone like that, having an attitude that they won't do any work, and they won't "do much meaningful work", will not endear them to you.

If they're a great business co-founder, they will have nearly unlimited options, much like great technical co-founders. They might also have great market knowledge, plenty of inside connections, and experience on what to do, and how to do it. And as you brought it up, experience on how to get to product market fit. All of which is invaluable. Further, and please don't take this the wrong way, but their experience in connecting with and evaluating people might have prevented you from choosing the clearly incompetent person that you ended up selecting.


Rather than dismissing my cofounder as terrible, I encourage you to consider the possibility that advice like yours, which we followed in cofounding the company, set him up for failure.

Having specialization early on was a mistake. It was a difficult situation, and it wasn't entirely his fault that there was, for long stretches of time, little for him to do.

A startup cycle goes something like this: initial theory -> MVP -> validation of theory using MVP -> iterating to product-market fit -> scale

Even in that highly oversimplified flow, there are a lot of shifts from "product mode" to "development mode". Most of these steps must happen sequentially. If only half of the team is fully engaged in any given step, you get a lot of slack.

There's a joke that first startups should hire a bunch of developers to build the product. Then they should fire the developers and hire a bunch of salespeople to sell the product.

Which begs the question - why not just hire developers who can sell, and avoid paying all that unemployment?

Larger organizations can get away with having specialists onboard. Smaller organizations (2-3 people) can't afford this luxury.

Your advice would hold for a later stage startup, but it is unreasonable advice for an early stage startup.


It seems as though you're coming at this with a very different world view and set of experiences than me, which is fine. Maybe we can learn something from each other.

To give two sentences of background, I've been running businesses for 13 years, and running a startup for 4 years. The first business I built by myself from nothing, and the second I built alongside my technical co-founder.

Firstly I'm concerned that you seem to think that I'm suggesting finding a 'specialist' business co-founder. Being a co-founder is the exact opposite of specialisation. If you're a co-founder period, you do ANYTHING it takes to move things forward, no exceptions, ifs, ands or buts.

Also, without meaning to be picky, I believed you identified your co-founder as terrible. Someone who, as you described, believes that doing 'thought experiments' and trying to get twitter followers is the appropriate thing that a business co-founder should be doing in an early stage startup, is objectively a terrible business co-founder.

If your business co-founder is doing his job properly, there should never be any slack. Exactly the same as a technical co-founder. Companies, especially early stage companies, can and must be doing product mode and develop mode simultaneously.

I've never heard that joke, but as you grow your company and get more customers on board, who have more requirements, it's pretty important to have both salespeople and developers working in tandem to build out a company.

I agree with you that larger organisations can afford having specialists and smaller organisations cannot.


How did you build the product that your first business sold without a technical person onboard? You coded it yourself. Thus, you have technical skills.

9 years later, when you were looking for a cofounder, you decided to go with a technical cofounder.

You can talk all you want, but at the end of the day, you chose to bring on a second technical cofounder (the first being yourself) over the business cofounder that you are recommending the OP seek out.

N.b. by technical cofounder, I don't necessarily mean someone with a PhD in Computer Vision. I mean someone who can productively write API integrations and use whatever tools are needed (e.g. Rails, Meteor, Xcode) to build the product.


Again, I think you're mischaracterising me a little bit.

I can't code. I'm not a technical co-founder. My first business was not a software business, it was an IT infrastructure business.

In my first business, I discovered a need in the Japanese market for a good invoicing/document management software. It came about through me building a crappy invoice management system, and showing it to other Japanese business owners.

It was a little scary to work seriously on this, since there were no competitors, hence possibly no market.

However, I went out and did the following:

a) Designed and had built a crappy version of the software that was functional, but not elegant or scalable.

b) Talked with nearly a hundred potential users of this software to find out how they're currently solving this problem, and to try to get a sense of the market and the potential demand.

c) Found a group of people who were very interested in buying this software.

So by the time I found my co-founder, I had already invested hundreds of hours, and tens of thousands of dollars. However, I had a working prototype, many potential customers, and a good feel of the market.

It was a LOT of work. When people dismiss business co-founders as not doing a lot of work, or not doing meaningful work, it's both very irritating and also leads me to believe they've never worked with a 'real' business co-founder.


Jason sounds like you have been where I am now. When you found your co-founders, after all that work, how did you split the equity? I'm a business founder looking for co-founders and I want to be fair but fair to myself as well.


We ended up roughly splitting the equity. I think what I did in finding and validating the market was table stakes.

I could have made a strong argument for more equity, but when it comes to actually building the product, there is still a tremendous amount of risk, and if you want someone to be as dedicated to it as you are, I would generally advise being generous with equity.

Naturally, as things move forward, it makes sense to revise the equity if the situation drastically changes, such as you committing full-time, and them not being able to, or interested to, etc.

At the end of the day though, equity discussions are more of an art than a science, and everyone needs to feel happy and looked after - including, of course, yourself.


That makes sense and is somewhat my situation. I want the right people and think I might have them but they can not become full time without being paid and I'm all in already. I'm paying for the first mvp to be built over seen by the possible cto. I want them happy but how can someone part time end up with as much as someone full time and with money in? And "generous" is so subjective, give me a ballpark for generous cause that's where I want to be. But it has taken years of work and cost to develop things down to a business,and we know there will be other equity shares given out, and neither of us has said where that will come from. I see how this is a very common challenge.


Another issue for me is there are 2 other people wanting equity. If they got their initial request it would give them 2/3 of the company's voting stock. Kind of a problem to me and it concerns me they would want that position after knowing me only a couple of months. They knew each other before I met either of them.


Seems like I can't reply to your message, maybe we've hit the limit of tree replies.

That's a hard one... and it's hard to offer advice because it's very situation specific. I might be able to help, or at least act as a sounding board if you want to hop on Skype and have a chat. My email address is in my profile!


I need a sounding hoard for sure but there are 3 profiles on Skype under your log in?


Think I sent you a message on Skype.


nope - try jay.makeleaps


Are you able to reply?


Very interesting discussion. I'm left thinking that these things depend very much on the kind of business you're trying to start. Some will have great need of a non-technical co-founder; others won't.


This is definitely an interesting discussion. However I think a startup requiring no business co-founder is very rare.

At the very least, if there are two technical co-founders, one has to spend a lot of their time doing business activities.


> Find a technical cofounder who can help validate an MVP and iterate it to product-market fit.

Have a non-technical co-founder source real customers to validate the MVP.

Non-technical cofounders can be in constant contact with the market generating your alpha and beta users so that when you launch you are generating cashflows to help sustain your business. You don't even need to have an MVP to get a potential customer waiting to try the first version of the product. All you need is an idea and to get in front of customers with the idea. That way you can get feedback from them the entire time you are developing, not just when you have a product.

Non-technical cofounders could also be establishing relationships with investors and partners that could accelerate your business. It sounds like your co-founder just didn't have a good idea of how they could really contribute to getting a sustainable business.


I know almost nothing of startups, but I feel like a non-technical (business) cofounder could still put in a lot of useful necessary work, especially if the company is just you and the other cofounders.

Marketing, promoting, sales, accounting, law, networking, researching... These are all things that I as a developer wouldn't want to deal with, even if I had the time to deal with them.


I agree Michael. That is, in fact, why I said I believe that the business aspect is much less demanding than the development one, at least in the early days of a tech startup.

Very interesting topic in my opinion.


Argh - I'm going to give this one more comment and I promise myself I'll stop.

The idea that the business aspect is in any way 'much less demanding' is like chalk on the blackboard of my brain. This is not an idea or attitude that will serve you either in life, or in trying to find a great co-founder.

You could make the exact opposite argument about the technical aspect, since in startup land there's no point building something until you've validated the customer requirement for the solution you're working on, and then ideally talked to 20-50-100 potential customers.


I am still not convinced. As Michael pointed out, the first months of a startup will be dedicated to developing the MVP, and then validating it and making the necessary changes to fit it to market. Sure, a business person can help a lot in this process, but the developer will be paramount. So it's 'can help a lot' vs. 'paramount'.


Thanks for the feedback Jason. It's good to know this is a legitimate fear, and I'll certainly work on the clear upfront communications to mitigate the problem.


Sure - best of luck. Finding a great co-founder is really, really hard. In fact, chances are you will spend more time with your co-founder than your significant other.

I'd advise spending as much time as possible, and trying to work together on some smaller projects before making the plunge.

Oh, as a minor note, instead of saying "I decided to abort the project as I didn't want to do 80% of the work while earning only 50% of the profits."

I would smooth that out to something like, "After some discussions on the amount of time we were both able to commit, in the end it made sense to stop working together. It seemed like the best choice since I was able and willing to spend a lot more time than he/she was, so we ended up parting ways amicably."

Assuming of course, that is what happened..!


Here's another perspective: what if I only pitch one person but they're the perfect fit for our business and have the right connections. They say "yes." Meanwhile you've been busting your butt pitching more than a dozen people, working 10 hours a day six days a week, and setting into your definition of, "working hard." You don't land a single investor. Who is more valuable to the business?

There's innumerable scenarios we can concoct but I think the point is that there's no industrial-labor model for quantifying "effort" in a knowledge-based business.

As a software developer my value increases exponentially beyond the menial tasks I face at my job as I learn to curate good ideas, cultivate processes for generating new ones, and avoiding bad ideas. Any attempt to quantify my value based on lines of code, number of repository commits, or any other indicator is essentially meaningless without context. I may only make a single commit after a couple of weeks that changes two files and less than a dozen lines of code... but the network effects of the efficiency I just introduced allows to process N^k more data points per second which may pad your bonus with a couple of extra zeroes in the next quarter.

So I would recommend:

1. Learn how to value people differently. They bring more to the table than just a warm body.

2. Model the contractual obligations and profit sharing based on the core values of the business. Does working 1 hour have a directly positive impact on profits of some constant (or near-constant) amount? Split profits on hours worked. Is it more ephemeral based on the experience and qualities of the individual? Split it based on responsibility and risk (as a rule of thumb).


This is an interesting perspective, and something I am trying to consider in my equation. I agree that the contribution each co-founder brings to the table should be based on the overall value, regardless of the hours he spent to achieve it. For instance, if one of the co-founders is able to land a big client or investor with a couple of phone calls then I certainly wouldn't worry that I am working 90 hours/week developing the product.

One problem remains: finding people who can close big clients or investors over a couple of phone calls is pretty hard. Identifying them upfront might be even harder!


Yes, in that regard it's much a matter of luck. You do have some control over how much luck you can expose yourself to. However I don't think there is any systematic approach one can take to identify these people.


Perspective is in the wrong place. Don't think in terms of relative value: 'I'm doing 80% of the work and getting 50% of the benefit'. Instead think of the absolute value of a co-founder: 'Solo I might be able to make an acquihire for a good signing bonus, but as a team we have a shot at eight figures'. Half of 10mil is better than all of 100k. If the co-founder doesn't increase the expected value of the company, then you're correct to pull the plug

Secondly you have a narrow criteria. It's extremely difficult to find people who can continuously work at a high volume. Consistent 60-80 weeks just aren't in the realm of most people. It's not incorrect to want this, or to search for it, just don't expect to find it regularly. Even when you do find someone like that, you may not realize it. Visibility can be a huge impediment. You'll directly see 100% of the things you work on and accomplish. Maybe 10-15% of what your co-founder works on.


Very good points, especially about the visibility aspect.

And I agree, it's better to have half of a big pie than 100% of a small pie.

Thanks.


There's no simple answer -- mostly because there are very few co-founder relationships where it's a direct 50/50 split of the work. One thing I've realized is that, like any relationship, startup relationships are based around trade-offs, and one of those trade-offs is that sometimes there's a workload imbalance.

There are a few solutions for your fear (i.e. in your head). One is don't get involved in 50/50 relationships -- you'd be surprised how understanding folks are about this.

I helped start a company with some friends back in 2006 and right away it became clear that I wasn't going to be able to commit to being involved full-time. I was still involved, and I helped get the thing off the ground, but we all knew I wasn't going to be able to make the time commitment necessary to be an equal partner in the business. So I wasn't! The CEO took a larger stake in the business and I took a much smaller stake -- we were both totally OK with this, as it fairly reflected efforts put in. (BTW - this company is now a successful venture-funded company in SV and the CEO remains one of my closest friends -- I'm a 'friend of the company', visit their offices regularly, and there isn't an ounce of bad blood among any party whatsoever).

The other thing to think about if you do go the 50/50 route is that different folks have different types of contributions, and even though the hours may seem imbalanced. For example, if you pitch 8/10 customers and your partners pitches 2/10 -- BUT...your partner lines up the funding / does all of the recruiting / balances the books if you have no accounting skills / etc., consider that raw hours might not be the best measure of "effort put in".

So it really boils down to this: Either go 50/50 and be comfortable that you're each making essential contributions even though hours might not be the same, or don't go 50/50 and instead have equity reflect contributions.


Thanks man. I'll consider the option of not having a 50/50 split all the time. It might work on some projects indeed.


As a technical CEO without cofounders, perhaps I can help shed some light on this topic. (I didn't take on a cofounder for these very reasons)

1) You need to trust your cofounder(s) entirely. If you don't have trust, you will have fear, and that will lead to resentment and ultimately a breakdown of the relationship.

Doing work as a technical resource looks very different from doing work as a business resource. Technical challenges have demonstrable progress nearly every day, business challenges take weeks, months, dozens of emails, etc to show progress.

Do not confuse "business" with "easy" or "less time". My job is almost entirely administrative, despite doing coding and design a dozen hours a week. Being an admin is perhaps easier programming all day, but it is not trivial. It takes a special type of person to deal with the business wins and losses, give your cofounder some credit.

2) If you're technical, you will do a lot of the immediately hard work. The business problems, as stated above, are long-tail. They take time to show progress, and you have to be patient. I spend most of my days emailing, making phone calls, creating pipelines, financial modeling, and communicating with my employees (coworkers!) about what I am doing has seemed to satiate their curiosity and demonstrate to them that I am working my ass off to make this a great place to work and a great business.

I think you need to work on communicating with your cofounder(s). They should be able to talk about what they are doing every day, loop you into their progress, and demonstrate their value implicitly.

If you don't trust them though, this will never work.


Thanks for the feedback.


Use reverse vesting and don't put provisions in that cofounders can't fire each other.

This will twist the incentives to align everybody.

  1. if you do 80% of the work and he does 20%, you can fire him and reap 100% of the rewards
  2. Same holds for you so it is fair
  3. The person who works the hardest will be the hardest to fire so if there is a big conflict the guy who doesn't work as hard will go. In case of conflict there is a lot of incentive to resolve it.
  4. This dynamic drives everybody to work really hard.
  5. Everybody will aim to make themselves as valuable as possible because there is essentially no downside to letting you go the first year. Doing valuable things will create downside for the company. 

You have to be bitten by this a couple of times before vesting starts to make sense, after all why would I not just get all my equity upfront. The worst I heard was a founder walking away with 30% of the company 9 days after the company incorporated.

Whether a business person will be able to contribute equally depends strongly on the type of project you start and where you are going to find customers.


I agree, vesting might help a lost with the practical side of things. Thanks.


I'm pretty sure that many, many people in any organisation feel they work harder than the people around them. Put another way, the perceived average is far above the actual average.

For example, this is a community of developers but I'm sure on a business forum you'd find many people to disagree with your experience that development is harder.

It's also worth realising that without the business side of things, there is no business - even if you have good software. Similarly, your co-founder can't sell air, so he needs a good product grounding the business development. You may be working unequally, but the dependence from one to the other is equal.

Even inequivalent exchange can benefit both parties. It's a specific case of the general idea of the 'laws of value'. Take a look at the essay International exchange and the law of value by Isaak Dashkovskij.

http://libcom.org/library/international-exchange-law-value-i...


From a business perspective I think it's important to move from thinking about "elapsed time" to "value created", especially when considering co-founders with different skill sets. In my experience the two are only very loosely correlated.

How would you barter between product development and sales?

How about if the sales person worked a day a week but closed ten times as many sales as the full time dev?

What if you got a co-founder who investors trusted from prior experience that drove them to actually invest?

How about someone leaving college versus someone who could earn several $100k on the open market?

Apparently[1] teams tend to do better than loan founders, and ultimately whatever you put together has to be tuned to what would motivate the other members of the team to stick around as long as you need them to in order that value is created. I don't believe there is a cookie cutter that fits.

[1] Somewhere in Disciplined Entreprenuership, Bill Autlet, MIT


I agree. "Value created" is the metric we should worry about. Thanks for the feedback.


Are you sure your not working to hard and getting burned out then blaming it on the other person? I'm not say that's the case but you might want to look at that as an angle as well. I'm probably way off base but it doesn't hurt to examine yourself first.


> Practical Aspect: How do I structure things with my co-founders.

Have a written scorecard with specific team member accountabilities, review weekly.

The People Component, getting the right people in the right seats will be a your most critical task. It's helpful to understand your core strengths vi-a-vis your co-founders. And making sure everyone is operating in areas of their unique abilities.

Recommend reading Traction by Gino Wickman > http://www.amazon.com/Traction-Get-Grip-Your-Business/dp/193...


Out of curiosity, have you successfully worked with business co-founders on equal footing, with a written scorecard, reviewed weekly?

This seems like the business equivalent of judging performance based on lines of code written.


Yes, twice -- It's not about judging. Think of the scorecard (dashboard) as a tool to keep everyone on the same page. Especially as you scale-up, the weekly review is vital to marking progress and planning ahead. The structured dialog is vital to relationships with co-founder peers.


You only cofound a project with someone you have worked a long time with and already know things will be balanced.

There are many more details to this incredibly interesting question.


Exactly. Work with people you respect. Your co-founders should be better than you (at least you should think so). And they likely think you are better than them.

You can only find out how the dynamics of the team will work once you try it, so work with people you already know, or try out new people for an extended period of time before comitting.


Easiest solution of all, don't have a co-founder only employees. My work experience is software engineer and software development management. Having started my own company, I find I really enjoy handling the business side of things, forming the company, the paperwork, market research, designing logos, product vision etc etc. I really dread and despise any actual code development I have to do. Writing code is mentally draining, handling the business side of things is fun and energizing. From personal experience, if you are writing the code, you are working harder.

If you must absolutely have a co-founder, then I would find someone else who is technical. Their skillset should complement yours, i.e. if you are a GUI developer they should be a backend developer. Of course finding a developer who is serious is another matter. Most people talk big when it's just an idea, and they are fantasizing about the success like one does with a lottery ticket. It's quite another thing when you have to keep at it, like I have alone for almost 2 years.


Thanks for sharing your take on the issue Christopher.


1. The way I think about it is that you have a goal/vision for why you start the project. Having a co-founder is very important and necessary to achieve this goal because your business will run into a number of roadblocks that you need a partner to help you go through it. However, whether or not your co-founder works as hard as you is really irrelevant.

You said that you are doing well financially and aren't starting these projects because of money. Then who cares if you "only" get 50% of the company? Your goal and intention is to solve a big problem. Get focused on that. The world is gonna pay you back in so many other ways than your 50%.

The other piece of advice is try to be really picky with your co-founders. Find ones that you trust and have worked with before or can get amazing references about. That way you know that he'd do his job the best way possible regardless of how many hours he puts in.

I hope this helps.


I find myself so heavily disagreeing with almost every aspect of this advice, that I feel the strong urge to leave a response, although I did not intend to.

>Having a co-founder is very important and necessary to achieve this goal because your business will run into a number of roadblocks that you need a partner to help you go through it.

The most likely issue and road block for an early stage startup, especially one where founders are already doing well financially, is actually co-founder trouble.

> However, whether or not your co-founder works as hard as you is really irrelevant.

I cringe when I hear advice like this. I have been there. It has been one of the most demoralizing and depressing experiences of my entire life. Working your ass off for something while seeing your co-founder not really giving a shit simply doesn't work unless you intend to make a complete idiot out of yourself. Startups aren't socialist communities. Anyone who signs up should be aware of that.

> Then who cares if you "only" get 50% of the company?

Well then why not give up all of the company and give all of the shares to your co-founder slacking off? Company stake isn't only about the money. It is equally about control and about capital. Imagine having 50% for the "main" founder, 20% for the co-founder and 30% owned by angels / VCs who actually put assets into the company. Sounds like a better deal to me...

> The world is gonna pay you back in so many other ways than your 50%.

I am not sure how to express utmost disagreement with this. In the case of success you will get paid back exactly what has been agreed to in writing. Nobody will ever consider you the "spiritual" owner or founder of the company just because you say you worked harder. But everybody will consider you the real founder if your equity stake is higher. Simple as that.

> The other piece of advice is try to be really picky with your co-founders. Find ones that you trust and have worked with before or can get amazing references about.

Yes, this is good advice. However a startup can bring out really bad aspects of one's personality. Sometimes aspects you didn't know existed before you started the startup. Make sure you pick someone you know is loyal and handles stress well. These are the most important aspects of co-founder picking.


I like what knighthacker says too.

I have thought for a long time that a good choice for a 50/50 business arrangement is where both parties feel perfectly comfortable each doing 60% of the actual needed work indefinitely.

With the right pair, the trust, confidence, and respect for each other is there, regardless of lopsided contributions from time to time (not forever).

If each is always focused on doing more than 50%, actually each FEELING like they are always doing more than 50%, and feeling good about it, even though that would be in excess of their compensation by definition, this eliminates some of the biggest doubts you have suffered from.

Plus on those occasions where more than a nominal 100% needs to be accomplished, you will not only be capable and prepared, but it will not even be a stretch.

As others have said, this emphasizes how carefully you need to align with your partner.


It certainly helps. Thanks for the feedback.


Maybe you don't need a cofounder.


Yes this is a possibility.


> I am already doing fine financially...

> And to be clear, I do know how to manage the business aspects too, so it's not like without a business co-founder I would be lost.

I'm curious: why are you wasting time worrying about co-founder issues? In your apparent case, a co-founder is a solution to a problem that you don't have.

If you're truly capable of financing the launch of a business, developing quality commercial software and successfully getting it to market (read: selling), you can keep 100% ownership of your company and call all the shots.

Since that's an ideal scenario, I suspect there's more to the story. For example, many capable entrepreneurs are afraid to start a business on their own, and a co-founder is simply a crutch to address this irrational fear.


Usually other people approach me with their idea, asking if I want to become their co-founder. That is when the fear described above kicks in. And I wouldn't consider taking a shot at the idea alone cause it wouldn't be fair with the other person.

That being said I also think that I could benefit from having the right co-founder. I am doing fine financially, but I am still looking to hit a homerun and never need to worry about money again, and to reach this kind of success most people would agree that having a co-founder increases your chances a lot.


One thing that jumped out at me was for every 10 clients I pitched the product my co-founder would pitch to 1

That's a very odd relationship - typically, the CEO pitches, perhaps with the aid of their co-founder. I don't think teams often split up pitches and each go do their own. Although, that strikes me as potentially a good thing to try if there isn't a clear best talker on the team.


> This fear gets amplified when the co-founder is not a technical person, which means I'll certainly need to take care of the development aspect myself, while the other person focuses on the business aspects, which in my opinion are much less demanding on software related projects.

This statement is potentially an indicator that you're not great at fairly measuring others' contributions.


He mentioned that his pitch ratio to new clients was 10:1 over his co-founder.

If he's doing all the code AND most of the pitching, I think that his fear is justified.

If he's thinking that the code is more important than the business early on...maybe. Both need to be there in spades but there are probably more good business people floating around than there are coders.

What he probably wants is a business unicorn who can either code or at least understand data normalization - and why not, higher success rate that way and lower co-founder friction.


The partnership charter is a great book that will help you form a framework for your relationship with your co-founder. http://www.amazon.com/The-Partnership-Charter-Start-Business...

Keep in mind, 50% of marriages fail and they have sex, so don't think it is easy or even natural.


The solution is to recognize that a fair equity split means something other than 50/50.


If your that worried about the hours then put some kind of hours clause in and a vesting schedule with items need to accomplish for X percentage. Or work out a partnership that's not based on a company structure.


Ive been investigating the grunt fund [0] concept lately and plan to use it with my current startup to bring on a partner. I think it would go along way to ease your concerns.

[0] Http://slicingpie.com


Not sure why this got downvoted, I didn't know about this book / site and just spent an hour watching a talk he gave at Stanford (he posted it on his site). I see some problems with his method but it looks like a step in the right direction.


I probably got downvoted because i failed to mention im not affiliated with this concept so it appears as though im self-promoting. So just to be clear i have no affiliation with it and just learned about it last week and read the book over the weekend and think this approach has a lot of merit.


Just don't take a 50/50 cofounder, only give out equity in proportion to expected value added.


Here's a specific answer to number 2, because it's trivial: structure your business founding contracts and documents accordingly. Make sure there are clauses for vesting or share distribution that reflect what you'd find acceptable with respect to effort delivered. These documents can be as detailed and fine-grained as you like, down to the minute if you're especially motivated/masochistic.

For the first question, I have a few suggestions, probably that you will not find appealing.

First, do try some introspection, especially with a view toward truly analyzing whether "driving hard": a) means what you think it means (in the specific context of your projects) and b) is a working solution for you to accomplish your goals--I'm loathe to invoke canned/cliched nonsense, but sometimes "work smarter, not harder" actually does apply; c) is something you would do regardless (that is, are you the kind of person who wants to solve a problem, or are you more after the thrill of "driving hard" in and of itself, and so no matter what your partner(s) might do, you're going to drive that much harder).

Second, seriously consider the possibility that what you need is an assistant/employee and not a co-founder. That is, consider that the breadth and depth of the projects you're interested in, with respect to the real size of the problem and the amount of effort necessary to produce the solution, just aren't as "big" as you think they are. It may be that the problems you're solving are solvable by "one person plus a little help", and don't need more than one person "driving hard." In this case, since you seem to enjoy "driving hard," you're looking for the wrong kind of partnership: you want somebody to pass off parts of the project to, but you still want to control the overwhelming majority of development.

Third, seriously stop and think a moment about your statement regarding how demanding "the business aspects" are. I'm going to be viciously blunt here: your question reads like you have a real ego problem and, unfortunately, at the same time somewhat ironically that you lack the understanding that "the business aspects" are actually meaningful if you want to have a "big" success (for certain values of "big"). Getting them done is not trivial, and certainly can be at least as demanding as the technical components of a product. That's intentionally vague because, frankly, your question is (we don't know what you consider a "big problem" is, what "good money" means, etc.). You're "doing fine financially" as a "developer/entrepreneur," so that is an indication you have at least some idea of what the non-technical "business aspects" of this industry are. Maybe you should try to study them so you have a more mature understanding, and therefore are less inclined to be so utterly dismissive of non-technical co-founders.


Thanks for the feedback man. I agree with most points, including with the fact that it might be an ego problem to begin with!

I'll give this some more thought.


Are you working too hard? Are you burning yourself out?




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