Cofounder · Building Teams

How do you motivate a lazy co-founder?

Maja Rašić QA Tester

December 7th, 2016

I'm running a mobile start-up and we just moved into our new offices. We started working on our spare time putting in time whenever it was available. Now, my co-founder and I are dedicated full time to the business and we've hired a couple of interns.

The problem however is that while I show up daily at 9 AM, my co-founder (the engineer, I'm the business guy) shows up every morning in the PM. We've had several discussions about inappropriate this is and how he's degrading office morale (mine and the intern's) by showing up so late every day. He stays late hours to try and compensate this tardiness, but it's still really poor presentation and incredibly unprofessional.

I have no recourse because we split the venture 50/50 (no vesting). If I want to continue on the project without him, he can block it. I've tried buying him out and he insists he's committed and will not sell under any circumstance. My only recourse is to quit and block him from taking the idea and running with it. Neither of these are admirable outcomes and I'd rather run the business as far as it can go with a lazy co-founder than end it in such an ugly fashion.

What I really want is a decent co-founder who can show up at 9 (or 10 AM if he absolutely needs an extra hour of sleep) and be a profesional.

With the above in mind, does anyone have an idea on how to motivate lazy cofounders?

Thanks so much!
A-level teams with B-level ideas succeed. B-level teams with A-level ideas fail. This course provides a comprehensive roadmap for building a standout team, teaching everything from hiring to structure, compensation, and culture.

Boris Kogan Startups and innovation

December 7th, 2016

To be honest, I think your head is in the wrong place. If you want coworkers who show up on the clock, go work at a big company, with time cards. Your cofounder is an engineer. It's his job to turn out good, functional product. Anything that helps him do that, whether it's coming in at 3 or working from home, is good. How it makes you feel when he shows up at 3 is irrelevant to your company's success. Your feelings are your problem. What matters is whether he can create a product which the customers feel great about. Not BS like what time he shows up at the office to write code, or whether he wears polished dress shoes vs. flip flops while working. It would be one thing if you complained about him blowing off feature requests and bug fixes, but complaining about a startup's CTO showing up on his own time? Come on. You should reevaluate your priorities-whether you are building a startup to create a unique product to fill a need and make lots of money/change the world, or whether it's to feel like an important company founder. Sincerely, Baruch

Eduardo Fonseca Cloud Provider | Azure & Unity 3d Developer | Senior .NET Software Engineer | MCTS

December 7th, 2016

First of all he may not be lazy, engineers tend to actually work better at night.
What I would recommend is for you to try to understand his reasons, the way he thinks, that's any ways a must in any kind of long-term relationship.

I do not know how you have talked to him about the situation, but if the language being used is more of a complaint it has very low chances of being effective.

What I can recommend without knowing much more is
* Go out together more if possible, no work talk, just fun, get to know each other much better.
* Figure out if he has always been like that or if it is a recent change.
* Check if you did agree on the time before you started, and hopefully something signed.

Simon Bain CEO SearchYourCloud Inc.

December 7th, 2016

Hi. Firstly, who is to say what a professional time is? Then I think you need to look at output not time keeping. So, is your co-founder doing the work required and or assigned? If he is lazy then tell him so. Tell him what you are going to do and let him come back to you. However, if this is you wanting someone to work the hours you define regardless of whether they are appropriate, then I suggest you look at yourself. You do need to look at their work output. Is the required work being done? Is it being done correctly or rushed and is it being done to the highest standards possible. Simon

Noah Webster Co-Founder at Joir

December 7th, 2016

Did you two agree to a 9 AM start time? If he comes in later, and works the same number of total hours, how is he being "lazy" and not just conforming to what you'd like? Plenty of offices have shifted schedules. Many engineers prefer coming in later and working later. I suggest before speaking with your partner you ask if this is an issue for him, or an issue for you?

* If he is coming in late and leaving at the same time, that's a very different issue.

Michael Leeds CEO & Founder

December 7th, 2016

You might want to start with having him propose something. There are times when people start late and work late - and still find a way to make it work. Via mobile

David Fridley Founder at Synaccord

December 7th, 2016

So if your conclusion is the engineer is lazy because he is coming in late - you are off on the wrong foot and the miss-attribution of motivation will be a point of  division for your relationship.  Really ask why the engineer (he?) shows up when he does. (Don't say late). 


Good engineers like to work long hours in a row. Once the get into something they don't want to stop until the get to a good point (or fatigue causes too many mistakes).  This may mean working longer than expected. If this is why he is late in the morning, you may find it more valuable to work with it than fight it. 

Also, your attribution of him being there at 9am as good for moral, makes sense to you.  If the engineer is working on something and doesn't really need to interface with any of those people, it might not make sense to him.  Often times the idea of 'appearances' doesn't translate into logic for engineers. For your staff and interns, and important part of moral is how you set the conversation.  Be very mindful of what you say about your cofounder with yoru staff. 

For the moral side you could talk about how late he works and how many hours he puts in, and how much you value the productivity as what your startup should value rather than showing up at 9am (and leaving at 5pm??).

There are a lot of tech companies that don't have a 9am/10am start for engineers. Think about it. 

Of course, these are things for you to consider. I don't really know the situation.


David Rowell CEO & Founder at LifeLinker Inc

December 7th, 2016

The issue of hours of work is a complicated one, and usually something that is better resolved by compromise than by insisting on a 'no exceptions' approach to following 'the rules'.

I've regularly been in environments where there has been a tension between 'creative' people who feel free to work the hours they suit, justifying their arriving 'late' by the fact they work very many more hours than eight in total each day, and perhaps even more days a week than five.

If this is your only issue with your co-founder, perhaps you need to revise your own expectations.  You describe the guy as lazy, but it seems that the laziness is only in the form of coming late.  He still seems to work 40+ hours a week, and you don't indicate any unhappiness with his outputs.

Realistically, most companies with developers choose to take a somewhat relaxed approach to hours of work.  They'd rather have happy developers who productively work 50+ hours a week at unusual hours of the day and night, than to have unhappy developers who 'punch the clock' between 9am and 5pm each day and no more than that.

On the other hand, it is fair to suggest there be predictable 'core hours' of work where everyone knows everyone will be at work and available.

As for degrading the morale, it seems your office has three people only in it?  You, your partner, and the intern.  My gentle suggestion here is that it is you who is degrading the morale, not your partner.  If you accept with positive good grace your partner's working hours, and if you convey this to the intern, then neither you nor the intern need to feel negative any further.

One more thing - if this person is indeed your equal partner, you can't unilaterally choose/dictate to him what he does.  Maybe, if we look carefully through Founder Dating, we might find him posting 'Help, my partner is obsessing over my hours of work and refuses to acknowledge I'm contributing more than my fair share, while all she does is complain about what time I get into the office each morning'!

Sorry not to be totally sympathetic to your plight, but sometimes we have to change ourselves, particularly when we can't change those around us.

Kym McNicholas TV Host, Tech Jounalist, Director of Extreme Tech Challenge, Host of KDOW Radio's NewFocus On Innovation

December 7th, 2016

Many engineers prefer to work in the late afternoon and into the evening. You didn't reference in here whether he's slacking in terms of time spent, or just isn't aligned with your preferred daily work schedule. I assume since he's building the product, it's best to accommodate his preferred schedule IF he is dedicating a good 8-10 hours each day, even if it's in the evening. Engineers are creatives and must work when they're mind is chugging along.

Mike Robinson

December 7th, 2016

Maja, I think the point you're hearing here is that a different start time does not necessarily equal laziness (especially among engineers, writers, and other creatives). What matters is the total amount of energy being put in and - most importantly - work product.

Arthur Lipper Chairman of British Far East Holdings Ltd.

December 7th, 2016

Thanks.