As one of the first employees at a startup, how do I handle a tech-cofounder that isn’t that technical, making rookie mistakes, is failing to write production code and is stubborn.


  • Not technical but has coding responsibilities? Why? If those tasks don’t align with her/his skillset the mistakes and difficult attitude may be because she/he is feeling overwhelmed.

  • If you are posting this here rather than talking about it with him/her you better change co-founder or re-evaluate your partnership.

  • Before leaving, as everyone seems to be suggesting, have an honest chat with the guy, and let him know that you are there to help. Tell him that you share his vision, and that you like his company, but that you were hired for your skillset, so you can really help. He must surely know he is not that technical, so letting him know he doesn’t have to prove himself to you, but rather be a guide and let you do the coding, might make him open up and let you handle things a little more. Make sure you don’t seem like a trheat, but rather like a helping hand, and things will be fine.

    • I’d do this, but only after having lined up something else. You could win some new responsibilities–or not.

      In my experience working in a technical role for less tech-saavy or capable management usually ends up with you yak-shaving and bikeshedding or on a death march, because the people making the key infrastructure decisions aren’t qualified to, or are imposing ridiculous limits on time and resources. But they end up in that position because they “have more at stake”, and by “more”, I mean “ego”.

      • I’m a not technical co-founder who learned how to code in order to build an MVP. While I’m pretty proud of what I did, I know it’s far from optimal from the technical point of view. When I hired a real developer to help, I noticed he was going through the same you are now. Fortunately I noticed it quite fast, and was able to tell him to take over the technical side, to redo whatever he thought was necessary, and I started acting more like a general guide, never attempting to micro-manage anything and leaving him the possibility to decide. I know I’m not good at this, and have no problem admitting it. Maybe it’s the same with your boss.

  • in my opinion:

    line up good alternative job opportunities before any serious confrontation. this is because tech startup life can quickly and unexpectedly change from heaven to hell. never insult anyone to their face or behind their back if you can help it.
    is your employer/founder really self-delusional or is he just thinking on a different wavelength? he may be allowing you creative freedom in executing the tasks your own way, to your own level of precision. is he guiding you with sloppy but intuitive ideas to give you a direction to proceed in but not a full-blown, industrial strength implementation? be honest with yourself when answering this – just because you can outcode him does not necessarily mean that you can do the job he is doing. think of yourself as a resource with a great deal of autonomy. it’s your job to secure the implementation; it’s his to suggest an approach to problem solving.
    explain to him your concerns with “production” code. if he is worth his salt he will appreciate you for your integrity and commitment. better still, take responsibility for these tasks as part of your expanding role in the organisation. if your startup does make it, you will be highly rewarded for taking the initiative early on.
    the big part of being professional is working with people who are at times, difficult to deal with. if you can live with or fix the problems – go ahead. if you need to quit – do so, but gracefully and professionally.

    my two bits – from practical experience

  • I’m a non-tech founder. I’d appreciate an honest conversation over ‘lining up another job’. We fucking need you guys (technical folks) to a) not be afraid to say something for fear of losing your job (again, we need you, we don’t want to fire you) and b) to not banter about with others online or employees, and create ill will. Just TALK respectfully with major stakeholders. I can’t speak for this guy’s non-tech founder..maybe he’s an idiot, but on the whole, people appreciate straight-forward communication.

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