Who should be a founder? How much should each founder get?
Bad partnerships and ill-conceived founding teams can be the death knell for an otherwise promising young venture. While
frequently, especially in hindsight, the right decisions around forming founding teams seems to be a matter of common sense,
in reality these decisions are often made without much critical thinking.
With a few simple exercises you can at least minimize the chances of a founder dispute/disaster down the road.
- Do not, I repeat DO NOT, take the decision of partnership lightly.
A casual, accidental partnership can work, but so can a one-night-stand-turned-wedding.
It is undoubtedly playing with fire.
- Write down what you bring to the table and what might be ideal to have in a partner.
This should include things like skillsets, commitment level, expectations for success,
thoughts on failure, and many other things that will be specific to you and your venture.
- Talk openly with potential partners about anything and everything.
- IMPLEMENT A VESTING SCHEDULE from the get-go. A vesting schedule is a
great mechanism for ensuring that motivations stay aligned and also provide a natural
mechanism for allowing people to go separate ways without devastating a venture.
- Try to have some intellectual honesty around how valuable existing assets are (things like IP,
know-how, experience, a strong network) to the business today versus how impactful they
are in the grand scheme of a ventures success. A great idea is worth very little -- people have them
everyday and take them nowhere -- without great execution and (usually) perserverance. So think about it upfront.
How much of the value is really in the idea versus the execution. What are the implications
for the ownership structure of your company?
- Realize that evenly distributed partnerships across a large number of people almost never work out. If you have
a six person founding team and are thinking that it will be easiest to all have equal shares...think again. Even
four founders with equal shares can be a tricky thing to manage as a venture grows. Practical problems arise around who
is in charge, who can overrule who, and maybe most importantly things can get slowed down when everything
is a committee decision -- defintely no way to run a startup.
A great resource for learning about "Founder Frustrations" (many of which stem from bad partnerships)
is Noam Wasserman's blog. He does real research on the topic
and it is defintely worth a look.