I’ve invested 6 months of my time developing a tech product but my cofounder and I have drastically different values. Should I quit now before I get burned?

A little background – a guy who I used to work for (and trust) approached me 6 months ago with an idea for a web application that targets a non-sexy industry. He would be the CEO/sales/bizdev guy and I would be the developer. It seemed like a really solid idea and something reasonable that I could build. After a week or so of researching competitors and hashing out some other details I decided to start building the product.

Fast forward to 6 months later and we now have a product which I’m fairly proud of. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that I was hoping for, but I think it’s a pretty solid MVP. The only problem is that my cofounder and I have completely different values, and it’s really hard for us to see eye to eye.

  • He wants to aggressively pursue patents (even though we haven’t made a single doller yet) – I think patents are a huge waste of time and resources and this stage in the business. Plus I don’t think our product is super novel to begin with
  • He insists that we continue adding more and more features before we release – I think we should just release the damn thing and see if anybody likes it
  • I think that he should take a more active role in ‘product’ related activities, like creating mock-ups and performing QA. He thinks we shouldn’t bother testing until the product is done!
  • He tends to be very scatter brained with his ideas. This concerns me greatly because he has the domain experience in the industry that we’re targeting. I have no experience in this industry and thus have to trust that he has the right vision for this product.

I really don’t want to give up but at this point I’ve lost a lot of faith in the competence of my cofounder and I have a hard time motivating myself to keep working on this product. I feel like our difference in values cannot be reconciled, and I worry that his vision is not focused enough.

Any advice on how to move forward?

  • Interesting problem.

    I do think he’s right about one thing: testing is useless until the product is done.

    However, that doesn’t mean testing out how people respond just by hearing the idea alone.

    If people get exited just by hearing it, you know you’re on the right track.

    There’s also a hidden rule when working with other people: get the product out the door ASAP.

    Morale is like a time bomb. It ticks very slow at start, but as time goes, it goes faster and faster, until someone is fed up with not having the product in hands. Go tell him to just launch the damn thing. If people don’t like the Mvp, then adding more features won’t even matter.

    I totally agree that you should let him be more product-centric. Just providing random ideas will drive you both insane. Let him do sketches (on paper to start with) Simple Photoshop block-outs after. He should do this himself, seeing as that will make his ideas more real. (tell him that)

    And good luck. -R

  • Founder strife is one of the biggest reasons of startup failure. You two need to both stop what you’re doing and talk. I suspect your cofounder values you more than you think but doesn’t fully understand how frustrated you are. Make your frustrations understood without making it accusatory. This is how you feel and this is why and this is what it’s causing you to consider. Then figure out if there really is a path forward.

    You two unfortunately have fairly big philosophical differences in building product. I hope you’re able to sort it out. Good luck?

  • He’s most likely wanting to do patents so you can get investment. So back him on that. Point for him.

    He should add enough features to get adoption. Everything else can wait. Point for you.

    Ui/ux should be tested first. Make three versions and go out and test them. Take initiative on that. Lead the charge.

    The last one is probably due to your inability to understand the business process. He sounds like an opportunist that has multiple targets that can only be streamlined with the ui/ux proof of concept and validation from your market.

    Long story short – test the ui/ux, get a customer check, get investors, then build your little heart.

  • It sounds like typical founder naivete. Has the CEO started a startup in the past? First time founder/CEO’s tend to focus on the wrong things and are especially paranoid. Sometimes its wise to be paranoid but its not good to be too paranoid (ie. file patents! or we need to add a shit ton of features so we can’t be copied when we launch!).

    You’re facing a common tech co-founder problem. The business founder sees coding as simple/beneath him so he pressures you to just add more stuff, but on his end he’s not putting more effort, so the more he demands, the more lopsided the effort becomes.

    Personally go with your gut. I would try to get an experienced outside advisor that both of you trust and put some sense into him. We can’t do that in this forum for you.

  • Founders squabble a lot about what to do. It seems in this situation there might be mutual distrust between you. If you don’t want to leave then you have to learn to work together.

    It sounds like trust has broken down and you need clearer communication about what you and he are working on in the short-term to meet your long-term goals. It sounds like this would help him to focus and it would also help you to demonstrate to him you are improving the product as much as you claim.

    As suggested above, adding a third person/advisor, possibly with greater business experience, domain experience, or to help you technically, would also be sensible to ensure your differences are balanced and that your different perspectives can be debated. Be warned that third person will almost certainly have entirely different opinions and ways of doing thing that wind the other two up. When people are under a lot of pressure, their flaws get accentuated.

  • These are minor differences, and of the kind that aren’t values-driven. Learn how to work these differences out because you’ll run into them with most other people.

    Also, realize that you don’t know what is best in each situation nor does he.

  • Define your core values, individually and as a company.

    Define your roles. One of you owns product development, that is, release schedule, feature spec, test plan, etc. The other agrees to defer to the owner on all these things. All of them. You can’t have one person owning the release and another changing the goalposts.

    Do the patents if you can. Business people value them way too much but sometimes they are useful for fundraising.

    He should QA the project every single day. How can he sell it if he doesn’t know it inside out?

    Capture all his scatterbrained ideas and relentlessly prioritize them from the backlog. He’ll be happy because a) you listened and b) he can check if it’s on the roadmap, and you’ll be happy because you won’t actually have to do any of them.

    I was in a very similar situation at my last startup. We didn’t do the roles thing and it went badly. If you do one thing do that.

  • CEO and CTO (co-founders) not on a same page means disaster in many ways. Most of it for the people working there who will feel this tension badly, but won’t be able to help at all.

    Also from what I ve seen, CEOs tent to be the bullies and want CTO to keep in their geeky corner. What I found incredible is that CTO had more business sense than CEO but couldn’t do much in the end.

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