Cofounder · Startup incubators

Ending a partnership two days before a pitch?


Last updated on April 17th, 2017

As it happens, I parted with my co-founder two days before the pitch at our incubator. The initial idea was mine several months ago, we talked and he agreed to come on board. He was in charge of the technical aspect while I was in the business area.

As time moved on, I was becoming dissatisfied with his approach. The incubator required of us to come up with a business plan, and a strategy for the startup, and i busted my a** off to write it, even though we both have technical background. Yesterday I sent him the business plan and he said: "Yeah, it's okay". I mean we should be building a business from scratch, you can't just say it's okay. And after my comment that I am ending the partnership he said that he thought his part was purely technical....

So my question is: should I go on and do the pitch? How would it look if I say that my partnership ended two days ago?

Any other suggestions?

Alan Brown 30 years experience in IT and Healthcare

April 17th, 2017

I'd say no, as Technical Director with 30+ years experience, pitching your business without a clear technical direction is like flying a plane without an engine, people will see it, but when they start asking details you won't have the all the answers and the business won't get off the ground. Saying your partnership just ended will just set off red flags.

David Pankros Developer, IP Attorney and Entrepreneur

April 17th, 2017

I say proceed. The impact will depend on the context of your pitch, which was not fully disclosed in the question (maybe intentionally?). In general, I always think it's a good idea to pitch when you have the opportunity.

If the presentation is a "Demo Day" it's not that big of a deal.

If it is for money, be ready for questions -- lots of questions. Be ready with good and complete answers, but know that investors will, regardless, likely be spooked by this. First, they don't want to get involved in the legal wrangling between two co-founders and, second, the instability of the company will be enough that you may be dismissed until there is some stability again. (Startups have enough challenges without major founder issues getting into the mix.) You'll need to allay an investor's fears on both fronts and show you have a grasp of the issues and a plan to solve them. If it is only 2 days old, you will have a good deal of legal issues to resolve, both in equity/control and IP ownership. An investor is going to want to know those things are locked down tight. After all, they don't want to invest only to discover later that you don't own the IP that is core to the business or that you are not a majority owner, like they previously believed. Be prepared that they will put you off for a couple months until everything is settled and any agreements are signed.

Good luck!

Alex Periel CBDO at a devshop

April 17th, 2017

Gosh, it's hard!

I'm sure that you have to go and pitch! If yu need some emergency tech help - my team can help!

In your case, you have to gather and do everything at the highest level!

Amit Nabarro Technologist | Educator | Life Time Coder

April 17th, 2017

First, sorry for your mishap.

Your decision on whether to bring a co-founder on board should not be based solely on the pitch you plan to give the incubator, but rather whether you need someone to complement your skillset, which requires this person to be as committed to the cause as you. There are no rules here.

I believe you should take a short pause, do a course correction and re-emerge with a plan you believe in. Incubators do not only talk to couples, they talk to individuals as well. Its also quite possible that the incubator, if they decide to get on-board, will help you find a technical co-founder later on.


April 17th, 2017

You go and you get over it. It's part of a startup journey, to have solid discussions on expectations before launching, after launching and when exit or closing down.

Kevin Carney Content Marketing works, but needs better tools.

April 17th, 2017

Do the pitch. Be honest that your lost your technical cofounder. State you're looking for another.

Brandon Finlen Believe in better possibilities. Act to make real.

April 17th, 2017

Think it through very carefully. Both how you present to your investors and how you communicate with your partner. Ending a partnership just before a pitch, especially if they have interacted with him can be a sign of dysfunction and a culture that they may not want to invest in, which may hurt traction.

The other side is in your relationship with your cofounder. How is your communication and relationship? Partners in a startup if they are to succeed need to have strong communication with each other. Was he aware of the level of feedback that was desired from you? Is there role clarity on each of your parts. If one of you has a concern with the other are you able to bring it up quickly and easily?

If you feel like you have done the best you can and still struggle then you may want to look at finding a new partner as that will be best for the long term. Understand that there will likely be some short term setbacks as a result though.

My gut tells me though that you guys haven't talked about this that much. You may want to give that a shot and start there.

Rob G

April 17th, 2017

Sh*t happens in business. In fact one could describe the early years of a company as a series of sh*t happening. As a founder, your ability to roll with the punches (anticipate, plan for, deal with and recover from the sh*t) and persevere is what will either set you apart from the giant pool of watrapreneurs or sink you. No one here knows enough about you and what you are trying to achieve to tell you definitively what you should do in this case. The fact that you are looking to a community of strangers for your answer is at least a yellow 'caution' flag. sounds to me like you are more interested in being right than in being successful. The fact that you waited until 3 days prior to a very important pitch to produce v1 of your 'business plan' is a red flag. Yes, lots of us do thins at the last minute, but a cogent business plan is not something you bang out in a couple of days and expect to present to investors/decision makers 3 days hence. The fact that it appears that you ended the partnership because of your partner's lukewarm response to your first draft is an even bigger red flag. The next red flag is the comment that indicates that you 2 are not on the same page in terms of who is covering what roles. This is supposed to be a startup and the fact that the only 2 people in the company can't communicate well enough to be on the same page about who will do what is a huge red flag... or perhaps the white flag of surrender. Sounds to me like you are both acting like children and until you can conduct yourselves as grownups you have no business pretending to be a business. So, should you go on and do the pitch? i say 'yes'. It will be an eye-opener and a learning experience.

Fred Davis Helps startups start up. Mentor: UploadVR & Runway

Last updated on April 19th, 2017

Don't do it. Politely re-schedule. One of the main things an investor is looking at is the team. If your team just got cut in half that's not good. It could also make the investors think you are not good at managing your team. You should get a replacement for them before meeting with investors.

Another question: does the other person have any shares in the company. If he's only been on board for a few months he shouldn't have vested into any shares yet. If he does have shares you may have a problem. If someone who has left a startup walks away with any significant amount of shares (more than 2% is bad, more than 5% is seriously bad) then there are shares being held by someone who is no longer contributing to the success of your company.

You need to have a high-quality team that WORKS WELL TOGETHER. And a tech company needs an especially strong CTO or tech lead. Until you replace that position with an even stronger and more dedicated team member, your chances of getting an investment are much lower.

Better to not pitch them than to lose our one chance... because 99.9% of the time you will not be given another chance to pitch to an investor who has already turned you down.

Chicke Fitzgerald 𝗘𝗻𝗴𝗮𝗴𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗲𝘅𝗽𝗲𝗿𝘁 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗮 𝗳𝗼𝗰𝘂𝘀 𝗼𝗻 𝗴𝗶𝘃𝗶𝗻𝗴. 💡 I zig where others zag #͏z͏i͏g͏w͏i͏t͏h͏c͏h͏i͏c͏k͏e

April 17th, 2017

There are a couple of things here.

First, do you have a back up plan to backfill what he was doing for you? One of the golden rules of entrepreneurialism is that setbacks will happen. It is how you deal with them that really matters to an investor. Making the right decision is always right, even if the timing seems off.

Second, your first pitch at the incubator will likely be one of many. Look at it as practice and answer the hard questions. Have your back up plan in place and demonstrate your decision making capability - this decision wasn't about him, it is abut you and why you are the right person that someone should back to lead this effort.

Third, it looks like your definition of responsibilities needs some work. If you want a tech person that can also play a significant role in the business planning process, you may be looking for a very long time. Those two skills are not generally found in the same person. I believe you would be better off finding one or two good mentors that can also be your eyes and ears on the business planning side. You need a sounding board there, but it shouldn't come from the tech side of the house, unless you have a true co-founder that shares your same skillset (in which case I might ask why would you partner with a mirror of yourself - it should be someone that is the rocket to your fuel).

In the meantime, work on your own leadership skills and invest time every day on working ON the business, not just IN the business.