Advisors · Titles

What do I call my business partner that is still working at his 9 to 5?

Robert Wheeler Managing Director at Newbridge Securities - Strategic Advisory Group

April 4th, 2014

My former colleague, and likely eventual business partner, is still collecting a regular pay check (I am not.) Once my business gets some more traction, he will join me, or at least that's the plan.

I am probably over thinking this, but I have some practical and ethical issues as to what to call him.

His skills and abilities are worth highlighting when I talk to potential investors and customers. Nonetheless, he is not my employee. I say that he is my business partner, but in a legal sense, he is technically not, so I do not want to refer to him in a written context as my "partner." (Also, I do not want to put his job at risk.)

I would like for him to have a descriptive moniker that highlights his importance to our overall efforts, but that does not misconstrue to others that he is currently 100% committed, since he is working full time somewhere else.

I guess I can call him an "Adviser", but I was looking for something with a little more "gravitas."

Any suggestions?

Yaron Rosenbaum Software Development Executive

April 4th, 2014


Ok, so he's not taking any serious risk. That's one factor.

But is he making a significant investment on his side (does he do the 5-to-9  ;-) )
Do you have a commitment from him, that when you have the option to pay him a low but reasonable salary, he will join 100% full time? (9-to-9) ?

If he's making a significant effort, and sacrificing a lot (like sleeping hours, time with his family, etc), AND you would like to consider him as a (non-equal, but significant) partner - THEN:

Present it so to your potential investors. He should be on your executive summary as part of 'the team', and you should verbally disclose that he is not 100% currently (the investors will definitely ask you this).

In the 'competing for funding beauty content', no one gets a straight 'A'. Having a co-founder that's not 100% committed will definitely make you lose points, but that doesn't necessarily  mean an 'F' either.

PS. If he's not willing be publicly associated with your venture (for example, in the executive summary) for fear of losing his job - then he is really taking zero risk, and I wouldn't consider him as a co-founder of any type. He is a POTENTIAL employee, and don't be surprised if he refuses to join your venture when you have funding (but can't pay as much as his current employee)

Just my thoughts.

John Wallace President at Apps Incorporated

April 4th, 2014

Have you incorporated the business and share in the equity? If so, you are "business partners" regardless of how he spends time or makes money. 

Clynton Caines SharePoint Developer at Discover Technologies

April 4th, 2014

What John said. Also, think C-level/middle-level management titles. You don't need him fulltime to make him a director/vp of sales and engineering/COO/etc... Your actual business documents (ex: articles of incorporation) can spell out exactly what that position means - so you can make it lean or robust to your liking.

Keep in mind that what you're searching for is a title of introduction to (keep potential employees/investors/etc. interested). Once they start looking deeper (and especially about to commit) you have a "___" obligation to fully disclose.

Good Luck

Saumya Garg Stealth Healthcare Startup

April 4th, 2014

How about, "Principal"?

Edward Sullivan Founder and Executive Coach

April 4th, 2014

Is he putting in at least 20 hours a week on the execution? Or is simply advising you on what to do? If it's the former, what's wrong with "Co-Founder?" If it's the latter it seems like you are assuming all the risk and doing all the work, in which case advisor seems appropriate.

Paul Reddy Operating Leader | B2B Software and Services

April 4th, 2014

First, your situation is the way many startups must begin, so I would not beat yourself up too much about the ethical issue. What I want to know about a team, as either an investor or a potential part of the team, is what functional role people will play in the organization, and what in their background suggests they'll be a powerful contributor. Titles are less important and often irrelevant in a small company, as they change all the time. Paul Reddy 415.519.6115 (mob)

Shannon Code Chief Architect

April 7th, 2014

I'd call him tired.

Mark Neild Empowering quietly creative people to prosper through innovative yet authentic and engaging business models

April 4th, 2014

Robert You could make him a non-executive director? He just then attends board meetings, typically once a month in larger companies. NEDs are not always salaried posts, but there are responsibilities and you may need to enter his name as a director in your company paperwork depending on what form of entity you have established. Just a thought. If you make up too esoteric title, you will end up explaining it which I guess defeats the object. Mark


April 4th, 2014


The question appears to come down to his level of effort and contribution to the venture. Based upon the operation plan that you're executing, is your colleague partnering with you in strategizing and executing the plan? Is he delivering on the resources and effort that he committed to delivering? Is he simply executing the orders you've given him, or are you guys partnering in visioning and problem-solving?

Whether or not he's 100% dedicated to the venture is probably not the best indicator of if he's a partner (any employee that you eventually hire will be 100% dedicated, right?). His level of contribution and investment to the venture is probably a more effective indicator.

Robert Wheeler Managing Director at Newbridge Securities - Strategic Advisory Group

April 4th, 2014

These are all great answers. I am less concerned about whether his level of contribution warrants a specific title (and he does not necessarily care at this point). I would just like to convey that his expertise is part of the whole overall effort and not mislead.

Specifically, I do a good part of my business in Italy. He assists me with translations and has contacts there that help move my business forward. 

(Notice my less than Italian sounding name.) 

When somebody looks at my business plan and wonders, "what does this guy know about Italy?" I would like to be able to point to the text and say, "This is Mr. So and So." He is an Adviser that helps me with my Italian business.

I was just thinking there might be a better way to say "Adviser" that sounds less fleeting.

Again, there are some very good suggestions here already. The above is just to clarify my motivations.