Do NOT take on co-founders like this

The co-founder relationship is unique from any other. Regardless of how you came to know each other, once you become co-founders there is a special bond that forms. After 12 weeks of working with a team in our accelerator, in many respects you get to know them better than their parents. You see them at their highest highs and their lowest lows. You get to witness the full spectrum of a person's personality, intellect, and emotions.

This is why it really pains me when I meet with entrepreneurs where one co-founder is full-time and the other(s) are part-time. On the face of it, it's completely natural for this type of arrangement to form. Startups have a tendency of colliding head-on with your personal life in a way that typical day jobs don't. The most common conflicts are in regards to commitment level and life expenses.

Being a co-founder means dedicating your full time and attention to launching a company. It takes incredible focus, commitment, and perseverance. It's a long-term and high risk investment of both time and energy.

Early employees have some of these same characteristics with a key difference, they're taking a job not founding a company. They may truly believe in your cause, but the crucial reason they are able to be there is that they receive direct compensation for their efforts. It is a small but important distinction.

If I were to do it all over again, I would insist on having full-time co-founders and here's why...

If one of your co-founders is saying "once we have the money to pay me a salary I'll come on full-time" they are not a good fit for a co-founder. This person could however be a great early employee. They may even have a place helping out from time to time before they come on-board. The challenge is that you cannot rely on them during crunch times. My company had this arrangement with our Chief Engineer. He was the hands-on hardware guy on our team while our CTO focused mostly on design. When we had a prototype presentation to one of our major grant makers coming up, he was months behind. He eventually quit 1 week before we had to present and you can imagine the chaos that caused.

Co-founders and early employees are different people. Co-founders are there day in and day out with a full commitment to the business. I fully understand that this is a high bar, but that's by design. If there is one thing I have learned in operating an accelerator it's that the team is more important than anything.

An innovative idea, an appealing market, and a scalable business model are all great, but they are nothing without a strong founding team. Most early-stage companies will pivot two or three times before they truly find product market fit. It's the founding team that will see the company through that process. If that team isn't made up of full-time, focused, committed co-founders, they are destined to miss their window of opportunity.

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