We are a small team of four people. Three co-founders including me the CEO of the team. I am the business co-founder who works full-time, the other two are tech-cofounders, both have a full-time job. Equity is split equally among three founders. We started roughly four months ago, now we get 40% of the MVP done. I think this is way too slow and I have talked to them face to face a few times about the problem. They felt excited for one or two days then just went back to the slow coding speed. Each of them spends 5-10 hours a week in coding.
Should I do a better job to communicate with them or should I just let them go?Is it CEO's duty to motivate the team, or co-foudners should be self-motivated, self-regulated?
P.S.: They love the idea and strategy of the business, and they both think this is a good opportunity, but neither of them likes to risk their jobs for the 10% success rate.
I have been both a CEO founder and a technologist engineer, so I might be able to answer this a little. Both sides have issues which the other side is either unaware of, or insensitive to, since they have little experience in being able to live, breathe and eat that side of life.
On the business side, I can understand your sense of urgency and the sense of the market moving while you feel your business is standing still waiting for this product MVP. Your technical co-founders may not feel this unless you communicate it to them in whatever way it takes for them to understand.
On the technology side, it takes a lot of time and effort to get software working and working for 5-10 hours a week will be roughly equal to a 40-hour work week every 1 or 2 months. So, basically you have 2 programmers who have worked 2 weeks for the company. Depending on the complexity of the product, this may be a complete unrealistic expectation to have a product out in 2 weeks of work by 2 developers. Also, if they have full time jobs they are unlikely to have energy left over at the end of the day to engage in more creative development and so might be under-performing simply because they are overworked.
In order to figure out what the actual issue is, it IS your primary job as CEO to communicate, to manage and to set expectations. Their job is to consider the time frames, provide feedback and to provide ongoing status. That way you would know if they are being delayed due to realistic reasons or dragging their feet.
Also, as CEO it is up to you to consider how easy it might be to replace them with new developers. However, there are 2 issues with this idea.
1. It is simply not easy to find good developers, much less those who will work for free or the cost of the electronic ink which the equity is printed on. They simply have too many stable options for making solid money that you need to consider that as part of the package. And yes, startups have a much less than 10% success rate, more like 3%. The job of making it successful is on YOU, dear business partner. And means whatever it takes, including figuring out how to manage and communicate.
2. A lack of loyalty will dog you through everything you will do, not just this project. If you did not feel you could be loyal enough to your work force to work with them in getting the job done then maybe you should have considered more carefully before giving away 2/3 of the company to them in the first place. Or, if you are having second thoughts now try to inspire them with different approaches again. This would save you a lot more time than figuring out how to replace them.
Finally, I would repeat to try to be more involved in what it takes to make the product actually work and how much should be expected to be created with the time and resources available. This is not only good for your own development as a manager, but absolutely critical for success of your startup no matter who is doing the work.
Remember, is it not important who is to blame but rather can you succeed and get the job done as a team? That is the first essential skill set for a CEO.
Ryan and Ruze gave you very thoughtful answers and I don't want to detract from what they are saying at all. Pay careful attention to what they said.
My response will be more more visceral and blunt.
In the startup game commitment is currency and investments need to be made. Like all investments, people need to get compensated according to the risk they take. Your risk: 100%; your co-founders: 0%. Yet the potential rewards are equal.
Something is very wrong with this. Fix it. Find co-founders who are 100%. This will not be easy but as Ruse points out, you are the CEO. Your job is to fix it.
I think I can give you my opinion, since I am the CEO and also a full time developer in the company I founded alone, we're a small software consulting house, we were profitable from the beginning, still are after 2 years.
I was able to leave my previous job because I knew for sure we would be profitable at least for a good period of time allowing the company to find more customers. I wouldn't have done such a thing for the best idea in the world alone, knowing there would be no income for a good amount of time, simply because I have a wife and a daughter who depend on me.
I am now starting a new company, kinda like my job on the side, this time is a SaaS platform, I have again no cofounders, but I started by designing the architecture of the platform, writing specs, working by leveraging the dead times of my employees, and after some time in which (fortunately) all of them got busy with paying customers, started working with a team of 3 newly grads from which one turned out to be great, so I hired him after his internship finished, and received 2 other newly grads who are doing OK so far.
I offered the guy I hired a steady salary, or a lower salary plus dividends and equity once the platform is finished, he didn't think it too much and chose the higher salary over equity.
So as CEO, I'd say it's not a matter of motivation, rather needs, and it seems to me like they need security and time to rest more than "opportunity"; I can also tell you how often the expectations of customers are not in the realm of reality, and how often they act like developers are not even human (not saying you are, but just to provide some insight), we become just a number, an operation cost if you will.
So if they were straightforward with you from the beginning, and you knew they would only be able to work 10 hours a week tops, I think I can honestly say it's not enough time to do anything useful; I have 3 developers here, 2 of them work 5 hours a day, the other full time (they are inexperienced, that's true, but I honestly think they are doing pretty good), and we are still looking at 3 or 4 months more of work to get the MVP done, and it's not like it's the most complex system in the world, it's an plain old ERP.
I'd say trust is key here, and I personally work only with (and for) people I can trust, and that includes self-administration.
If you don't trust them and that they know what they're doing, what are you doing working with them anyway?
Everything starts and ends with communication and ultimately you the CEO. A couple of thoughts. First, I would look at your vesting schedule as that will provide answers how to move forward. If you don't have one figure out if you can put one in place with whatever current contract you have. I have worked with several co-founders now. I would never found a company without a vesting schedule. It helps keep everyone pulling their weight.
I know a tech entrepreneur. The group he came in to work with had no vesting schedule and he had a similar situation. He worked very hard..one co-founder dropped out, one didn't do half the work he did...etc. They were fortunate enough to have a decent IPO. He walked away with about $25M, while his co-founders each took away about $125M, one who was not even there the year leading up to the IPO. The annoyance and sickness to his stomach was palpable in his words. So...I would start with what everyone is set to get out of this company. That will give you a lot of answers on how to communicate moving things in the right direction.
One trait of entrepreneurs is a sense of urgency, which you are expressing. Within reason, your co-founders should have that too. Patience is a virtue, complacency destroys opportunity though. So if you are lacking patience, find it. If they are being complacent, it is your job as CEO to move forward.
The problem that can arise with an equal equity split like you suggest is there is little leverage you have equity wise. You are not a majority. In fact you are a minority owner. So if your three cofounders feel you are not the right CEO, they could press you out of the company. My guess is you guys dont have a very detailed structure or contracts based on how you describe the situation. I would look into that further because if you are already thinking of finding new people, you may be in for problems at that time.
If you have a good thing building in your mind, set up more detailed contracts and expectations. If you don't have a good thing going in your mind....set up more detailed contracts and expectations.
Picking the right co-founders can be super tricky, but (in my opinion) is the single most important key to success. Equity cannot be the only motivating factor, especially for co-founders, that never works... motivation of co-founders needs to come from somewhere deeper or the sacrifice will just never be made. Excitement is very different than passion and capability, and it's so frequently mistaken for commitment. Excitement will typically fade when it's time to show up and pound the pavement, what's left is the true test.
Bad co-founders can kill progress, energy, and increase your risk of failure (as you've discovered). The short answer is pick the right co-founders, and don't be afraid to lose friends, you'll make new ones.
if i were you then i will communicate with them and told them work in a new way. and also share innovative thoughts with them.
Shane, I think your approach is ok as long as you all understand the HUGE risk for turmoil, and problems to the business and friendship by not having agreements..and are somehow ok with it. Don't talk yourself into accepting no legal boundaries because this is one of your first ventures. It could be THE venture that hits.
I have been where you are as most have. Everything is going great and you are just all high fiving and group hugging that you are in it together and you all trust each other to do right by each other. That's a false euphoria along the lines of "you can keep your doctor and you're premiums will go down."
But you are already having thoughts of "what is fair." The only way what you are describing will work is if you absolutely commit to being ok with everyone getting an equal share regardless of input merely because you all got each other to the table.
In my experience though, what happens is while it is quick and easy NOW to just be cool with equal shares...what happens is you continue to put more time in. Your partners get married, or have kids or get involved with another start up. They most likely, thanks to the greed of most, are not going to say "Shane I realize Im not putting as much in now...let me give up some of my %equity." In their minds they will be thinking, "So what I havent done as much as Shane....If not for ME he would have never even started the company...THAT alone is worth my equal share." Meanwhile you will be looking at 60 hours a week and setting up major momentum to their 10 or whatever and it will build in your mind "This is just wrong...Im putting way more time and more importantly bringing more results."
One other point about HOURS, because someone made a great comment about set up measurable goals. Someone also made a comment about time and hours, and hours is rarely a factor of meaningful progress. I came into a company and in two weeks had made more movement and progress than the CEO made in the prior 7 months. I was more capable and competent than him....he spent a lot of hours at the office..often wanting to have time wasting meetings to listen to himself talk. So don't get caught up in HOURS, but rather measurable results. And be fair and open minded. If someone contributes as much to the company in 2 hours as you can in 10, be glad for that.
Don't let fears or legal de-rail your progress, just continue to be open and honest with everyone. If I were in your shoes I would have the conversation you are having in this forum with your partners.
To be blunt here, as CEO it's part of your duty to motivate your team to make things work.
Secondly set goals and targets for each member of the team and see if they meet up, this way you will find out why they tend to slip back to their old slow ways.
If the poor outcome continues, then you should let them go and of course you know you don't just wake up and let them off without securing other developers that fully understands and agree to stated terms.
So your action depend son what's on ground either communicating to them through what ever way to make things work and improve outcomes or letting the off.
If they dont risk , they dont believe in it. having co-founders who work part-time is like pulling a bullock cart. A business partner , is like your spouse. Should be carefully taken care and chosen
My .02. Startup life is a marathon, not a sprint. As CEO, you gotta practice incredible amounts of patience, you have a long long long road ahead of you. Keep pushing them, but it's probable one or more will drop off the team, as the excitement of building a new product turns into incredible amounts of patience and balancing life with your endeavor. Honeymoon is over, now the commitment really gets tested for years to come
Getting to MVP is a major accomplishment, but its just the beginning of a new phase requiring even more heaps of patience. The world doesn't welcome your new idea with open arms, no matter how good it is, or how good you think it is.
And I think quitting your job early is most always a bad choice, especially with a recession coming at us in the next year or two. Don't let idealism and optimism cloud good judgment. Good luck!