Should I add a late co-founder?

I’ve been working for a long time on a tech project that is very important to me. For the past 12 years, I used any free time I had to work on it. I managed to get a part-time job so that I could use the rest of the weekdays to work on my project. I also dedicated about one and a half years to work on this full time when I had the money to do that. I tried to make choices along those years to lead me to obtain the skills required to solve the problems I encountered.

Much of the work was math and algorithmic research, and also some development. Most of my previous attempts failed, but recently I reached some breakthrough and I think that I have a complete and hopefully correct plan for implementation.

I began the implementation of the current plan about 5 months ago. I also managed to hire a part-time remote employee to help me out.

A person I know asked me if he could join my efforts for a while, possibly to become a partner if things worked out. I never worked with someone (in person) before on this project and thought it might be cool and possibly useful, so I agreed. This person is a pretty smart guy. He knows some math and has development experience. However, I feel like he is less experienced than me in those areas.

We worked together for a few weeks. He then asked if I am willing to get into partnership with him, giving him about 15 percent equity. He also emphasized that it is important for him to make decisions in this project.

I considered the fun I had working with him on the project and told him that I might be willing to partner with him. However, when I later thought about this I realized that I might be making a mistake. This is what I’m asking about here.

I think that the main contributions of this possible partner are that he is very determined to succeed and that he is a talented developer. I was also told many times that the fact that I work alone makes progress much slower. Friends have told me that this might also be fear that is blocking me.

On the other hand, I am worried about a few things. First, I’m working on this project for idealistic reasons, more than just the money. However, I believe that my potential partner has a different set of priorities. I took the time to explain to him my reasons for working on this, though I am not sure if I can trust him to be on my side when a critical decision will have to be made. He also tends to say things like “This is not really what will eventually happen, of course, we need to iterate and modify”. This was difficult for me to hear because I’ve iterated this design after many failures for many years.

Second, I think that as a possible cofounder, he does not bring skills that are complementary to mine. I heard many times that this is important, but I could be wrong here. During the time we worked together, this person managed to notice things that I might have noticed only months later.

Third, I’m worried about my freedom. I believe in remote work, I like to work in my underwear, and I also don’t care if my employees do the same. However, from the time I started working with this person, I felt that there is a major possibility that I will lose this freedom, as he probably doesn’t share my opinion about these things.

Fourth, a friend advised that it might be unreasonable to add a co-founder after working on something for such a long time. So maybe it is better to keep full ownership and find another way to get employees, or possibly stay small and complete the development.

I will appreciate any advice or opinions. This problem has kept me up at night for a while, hopefully, you can see something that I’m not.

  • I think that giving him equity now is a mistake. If that person doesn’t believe in the same things and doesn’t have the same vision it might be a problem.But again, he may simply be more pragmatic than you with a fresh look of the product.

    As for worrying about remote work and taking decision, hey, it’s your company and you’re the CEO so you take the decisions that you want and if you both don’t agree someone still has a decision to make … and this person is you.

    Now, for equity, don’t give it to him but let him work it first. There’s a book called Slicing Pie which dynamically distributes the equity based on the work done not based on some predefined value. You should read it first and allocated a portion of the pie to it. If he doesn’t want to work that way, then I guess that you have your answer and that he’s more interested by what monetary incentives he can get out of this than the product itself.

  • The time you worked in the past is sunk cost. At least part of it. As an investor (or potential partner), the value is your project today, not your time spent in the past.

    At least put a long vesting schedule to this equity and reduce his salary if he has one.

  • Let us say you could get work for 50$ per hour, and you have already spent 1000 hours on this project. So how much worth is 100% of the equity?: $25000 ? Certainly not. It can be anything between $1 and $999999.

    A tech project which is already underway during 12 years is a failed project.

    It is much better to have 2 smart people in the development team than just work alone. Whether the second person is an employee or just paid by equity does not matter.

    The main thing you probably need is a salesman, as a partner. He will tell you what features he needs.

    Freedom versus success: in the last 12 years, you wanted freedom. There was no comercial success. Spend a 13th year for the breakthrough, alone ?

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