What should I do when my co-founder does this…

We have been friends for over five years now and have been working on this idea for the past one year. We validated the idea through a very minimal prototype that I built in the initial 3-4 weeks. I did a few interviews to understand the user needs better and the response was just amazing. That’s when we knew the need was there and decided to move ahead and build the product. The idea is in elearning domain and hence we had to work on both the design and creation of the e-learning content and also code the application that delivers this content. I took responsibility of the coding and content creation part and my co-founder agreed to take care of the our marketing efforts.

I started working on it and finished writing the course content about two months ago. Since then I have been coding the back-end to support the content delivery. Since the start we met every week to assess our progress and in most of the meetings he missed the deadlines, sometimes by over a month. Because of this delay, the marketing stuff started to pile up. Then I had to juggle back and forth between creating content and writing marketing copy, emails, newsletters, social media, establishing partnerships, writing blogs, giving out presentations etc. I communicated to him several times about my expectations from him and the problem that I was facing due to this constant juggling back and forth.

I didn’t notice initially but when I look back, he really hasn’t done much in the last two to three months. Whenever I asked him for anything, he would say “I am still working it out. Will keep you posted” and then nothing. No updates untill I followup several times.

The problem is not that he hasn’t contributed much. The real problem is that I came to know that he is working secretly on a project all along with someone else for the past three months. A friend of mine told me about this about a week ago but then I just didn’t believe him and shrugged it off. Today, I confirmed it through a very reliable source.

I can work with a guy who isn’t reaching expectations but I really cannot bear this. I thought through this for sometime now and I understood that I am being emotional and hence wanted to know what others would do if they were in my place. How would you deal with this? I would appreciate if you can help me with this.



  • ^Thanks for responding so quickly.

    Now, if that is what he wants, after all that we have worked for, I don’t mind letting him go. It might be a bit emotional for me but then again it’s his decision.

    It has been three months since he started working on this new project and yet he never spoke to me about it. Now, I just don’t know how to broach the topic especially when he chose to not bring it up at all. How would he respond to it. If he doesn’t want to leave, would you continue to work with him?

  • Sorry to hear that. But it seems your ‘buddy’ is only holding onto your project in case it gets big. Until then he only does the minimal while working and spending most of his time of the project that seems more promising to him right now. Ditch him. Seeing as you are doing everything already, you don’t even need him. Sometimes going solo at the start is the me best way to go. (Zero politics). You can do this. -R

  • @R This I really didn’t think of. So, he is playing safe, right?

    But still I don’t want to ditch anyone. I really don’t. I cannot live with that for the rest of my life. I want this to be as easy as possible for either of us and that is where I need your help. How do I even start the conversation? Do I even have the right to ask him to leave? Also, it isn’t illegal to start another startup when you are already working in one, right? And he has a 40% stake in the company.

    I really appreciate your advice. Thank you 🙂

    • Unless you have an agreement that says so it isn’t illegal to work on multiple companies at once or else Richard Branson would be in jail.

      If this co-founder is secretly working on something else without letting you know, he has poisoned the well and I don’t think there’s a way to salvage this. I would give him a chance to explain it by letting him know that you know of his deception.

      • Great advice. Thank you 🙂

        I was contemplating on meeting him tomorrow to discuss about this but wasn’t exactly sure and the next moment, I read your comment and I think that is the right thing to do. Maybe I should know his side of the story before taking a call on this. Thanks for being so helpful.

    • He’s already ditched you. He’s just not respecting you enough to tell you.

      Hi Cofounder,

      I just heard about Secret-Project-Name – what the hell?


  • I would save your email communications with him shut the company and do something else.

    Then when his new company is worth 10billion dollars come out of the woodwork and sue his ass.

    • This definitely is not helping.

      Why would I want to do such a thing? If he is doing unethical things here, that doesn’t mean I am supposed to follow suit, right? What about the other guy who my co-founder is currently working with? He has no part in this!

      But the saving email communication advice is great.

      Anyways, thanks for trying to help.

  • Welcome to the world of startups!

    It’s time to grow up and put your own interest ahead of emotions.

    Better now than later, when (let’s hope) VCs will come along to tell you what to do.

    Him neglecting duties is the problem, not him having a side project. So discuss that issue first.

    Who knows what else he is doing behind your back, but that you might never find out.

    I observed CEO and CTO of one startup for a long time. CEO was poisoned from one of the Managers (ass kisser, btw) that somebody from the company is poisoning CTO against CEO. Naive CEO trusted him.

    CTO knew what he was doing, and ultimately was a bigger player than CEO.

    The problem was CEO trusted more to this ass kisser Manager than his own CTO. Damage done!

    Choose carefully who you trust and what interest sits behind different titles.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences.

      I just wanted to tell you that I spoke to him about the issue today.

      He initially declined his involvement in the other project but when I was adamant on the issue and on repeated questioning, he acknowledged it. Later he said that I got it all wrong and went on saying that he has not joined along with his friend but only was helping him in his new business idea.

      When I asked why he didn’t tell me about this, he said he didn’t tell me because I was already working all day on the project and if I was aware of this, he said and I quote “I would loose my focus on the project.” I really didn’t understand his logic behind this though.

      This went on for a while but in the end, he apologized for the misunderstanding and accepted the fact that he should have told me about this back then.

      I accepted his apologies but I clearly communicated that things won’t be the same anymore, that he lost my trust in him and it would take time for things to come back to normal.

      I really hope this becomes a lesson to be learned from for anyone who is looking to work on startups. Co-founder relationship is one of the most fragile relationships and finding a co-founder who you can trust is vital for your success.

  • I agree. You seem like a solidly good person, but your partner does not seem like a person you can trust over the long-term. Better to figure that out sooner rather than later. Trust is one of the most important aspects of a relationship between co-founders. It seems pretty clear to me what you need to do.

  • I would suggest to think ahead, like what if he does it again?

    What if you choose to shutdown the company, or

    what are your options in worst case scenario?

    Can you get someone else’s help on marketing? Can you limit other co-founders’ authority?

    Stay prepared and stay ahead.

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