How do you motivate co-founders to commit with you on an idea?

Makoae Wilson
43 replies
I am currently working on an idea with my team. All of us have jobs and are in different locations(same time zones). We're are struggling with productivity because only two members are fully commited on building the product. The two of us came with up with the idea and we brought two members who shared interest and the vision of the idea. The two other guys will promise to do stuff and then not deliver on them. How do you motivate them to work without being intrusive to their time. And how do you make sure they not slack?


Duane Wilson✌️
Running teams is hard. Remote teams is hard. Side projects even harder. Unpaid side project even harder still... Not knowing roles I would say to Include them in conversations with the other cofounder who is contributing and make them feel engaged. Ask specific questions that relate to their piece (if design, do you think this cta I mocked up works? What would you do differently? I think it should be fun/serious/a pun/etc what do you think?) in as limited a scope as possible so they don’t feel overwhelmed and can spend 20min to play with something and toss it back to you and succeed. If they don’t commit to the success quickly after a few weeks of this then you must fire them, and you and the person who are working on it fill in and do their job as best you can. Perfection is the enemy of the great and the death of the good. Learn to do all the things yourself :) keep working!
Joshua Dance
You need to make it real. Have the hard conversations. 'Are you in or out?' If you are in, here is what you get. Then you talk about real salary, or real ownership. Make it contingent on milestones and progress. If those are not hit, then the attached condition is forfeit. If they are out, thank them for the time, then go find someone who is in.
Alex Jost
If you dont make them follow the idea/product, make them follow you as a leader. That wins time to convice them in the long run as things get more real.
Philip Guidon
co-founders often are investing with time or money. for their investment they should expect to receive equity in the company. especially if they are committing time, it is important to properly incentivize them with this equity because otherwise they are working for free. If you're concerned with their performance moving forward, their equity can vest over time and you can evaluate their performance at certain milestones you've set for the company. for example they receive 5% of the company now for signing on, and 2.5% each year for up to 4 years. this way they get part of the company now and can work to get more, which can help keep interests aligned. the amount and timetable is up to you. this is assuming you haven't already signed over nor promised equity. from my experience, if people are not pulling their weight you need to speak with them and listen. give people a shot and more often than not they will impress you. if they aren't delivering work because they don't believe in the company then it would time to part ways.
Makoae Wilson
@philipg Thanks for the response, I have signed contracts detailing vesting shares with many people before but they would not commit regardless. People tend to focus on they're own things and not give their free time the project. So I then read somewhere that before you discuss the shares issue. You should get in a verbal agreement that they start working with you for a couple of days and then you can discuss equity once you have seen their progress. They never done anything from Day1, been a few weeks now. All they do is talk of how a certain way of doing things will be helpful but they don't actually get the work done.
Filix Mogilevsky
My personal experience with trying to bring people into my side project has been that 95% of people are just talkers.  Most people in this industry, especially programmers have grand ambitions, and this has to do with the fact that we're constantly bombarded with the news of some 20 year old with a billion dollar exit which is beyond rare.  When most realize that they have to spend time after work and on weekends, month after month with very little probability of success, they just give up. I've seen it way too many times to count.  I made a mistake of bringing someone on board who just wasted my time, copied part of my idea and tried to do it himself, needless to say he failed in his endeavor.  Just be careful who you bring aboard, people are not what they seem when they have to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.
Makoae Wilson
@filixmog Thanks for your comment. You're right, all people do is just talk. We have brought people on board so many times and it is discouraging to keep looking
Abe Winter
Not everyone has to carry the same weight. Renegotiate the deal so everyone is putting in the amount of time they can afford. (Less time = less equity though). If you're not paying them, will you be able to get someone better? Do they do something you don't know how to do?
Makoae Wilson
@abewinter We're all programmers with more or less the same level of experience and expected to give weekends and holidays to this project as we're all mostly not available during weekdays. So they're supposed to do something that I can probably do but sharing the work would take us less time to complete than if I were to do everything myself.
Abe Winter
@abewinter @wilsonkolana if they're saving time, might as well keep them and just adjust your project timelines? Just make sure (1) the later timelines don't kill the project and (2) have a conversation about what reduced hours looks like in terms of equity comp. (I've been on both sides of this conversation at work, it doesn't have to be hostile; people who need part-time work like it).
Alex Hartnett
We also have a team living in different cities (we are 6 people) and in order to stay motivated and productive, we communicate and arrange online teambuilding such as discussing books and films on the topic of our work, discussing news and hosting online parties or games.
Makoae Wilson
@alex_hartnett Nice one, we have not tried team building but we have fortnite meetings online to talk about the potential vision of the project and we frequently talk on whatsapp but when it comes to delivery, they just come with excuses of how busy they got.
Ana Bibikova
I totally agree with @Duane Wilson. The key here is detailed discussion. And even though it's a side project for everyone, the relationship and roles must be formalised. If you don't have a co-founders agreement with detailed description who's responsible for what, it makes sense to draw at least a memo for everyone to be reminded what their areas of responsibilities are. I've actually found it useful in any teams - formal, or informal. Besides, you might want to use something from agile practices, - like weekly meetings (virtual, naturally) with setting up goals and expectations. Then make everyone touch base daily and discuss, what have they done so far, what they are going to achieve today and if there's anything that blocks the way to success. For daily "meetups" there's even no need to use Zoom, - a few sentences in Slack channel will do. As I see it, if 50% of the team members deliver and 50% don't - it might be not a question of motivation, but rather a project management issues. Make interaction and reporting more transparent and regular, and you might find that the work is done faster than you'd hoped:) good luck
Jimmy Cerone
I'd recommend using Good Time Journals from the book Designing Your Life to zoom in on activities your cofounder enjoys and work to consciously integrate those into their every day! Here's a link to the sheets, which have you note down activities you find engaging and activities that give you energy (the two can be subtly different):
Khalid Belghiti
Was in the same situation and in the end I and my other co-founder decided to stop the BS and had a hard talk with everyone. 2 developers are still working with us... All the others (partnerships, communication, marketing...) Are out. The bad news is we went from a team of 8 to a team of 4... The good news is we are getting more things done now and we'll start onboarding new team members only if we're sure they'll commit to the project.
Jeremy Cleverly
One approach I've found that has been semi-successful is to specifically designate individual responsibilities to each member. When one (or in your case two) are not pulling their weight it will become very apparent and be difficult for the individual to blame others for not having completed something. This will then give you an opening to address the shortcomings and hopefully resolve the issue amicably. Another thought might be to examine what roles each founder has assigned to them. I'm good at certain things, but not others. If I was assigned things I was not good at or did not enjoy (running payroll, accounting, etc..) I might be seen as slacking wherein actuality, that is not where my talents lie.
Makoae Wilson
Hi @jeremy_cleverly thanks for the comment. So how we work is we put a bunch of tasks in the backlog on Jira, then run a sprint with upcoming tasks then let everyone choose what they like working on as to avoid giving someone a task they do not like but still, people choose tasks and not complete them and forever claim that they got busy primary job.
As other have said you (and your co-founder) need to have a discussion with those people. You anyway can't go through life and building a company without having difficult conversation, so why not practice now? I'm currently in a team of 2, but our time commitment is different. We had several discussions about time commitment, financial commitment, how we work as individuals (Manual of Me) and as a team (team charter). This is all document. If this is a side project for everyone I'd not suggest daily meetups, even if it is just asynchronous. It increases the pressure. I'd rather discuss how do team members schedule time for this project (a couple of hours every day, several large blocks of time on 2 days etc) and ask them to commit to this schedule and post an update afterwards.
Makoae Wilson
@katerinabohlec Hi Katerina, thanks for the response. So since everyone is busy with their job during week days, we have agreed to work on weekends on this project. We have 2 week sprints where we layout micro tasks that have to be done on JIra and have people choose what they will most be comfortable working on in the next two weeks but the two guys come back with excuses everytime. That they got busy with something during those weekends.
Sachin Tiwari
Honestly, it is presumably an issue with how committed you are. Other people can sense when you are hedging and not fully committed and they will be disinterested. You have to first fully commit yourself and come from the mentality that you will get the job done with or without other co-founders. In today's era, there are lots of options available to get your work done. One option is you can outsource your product development or any task which you want to complete. You will be much more persuasive to others when you are coming from this position and your business is not dependent on other co-founders. Make sure that you make the jump first before asking someone else to do it :)
Makoae Wilson
@isachintiwari Thanks for your response. I and the other co-founder commit ourselves to this project as much as possible. The reason why we go two more co-unders was to avoid outsourcing the product development. If we had an ability to outsource, we would not get other cofounders because they would be a dead weight just as now.
Sachin Tiwari
@wilsonkolana So might be they are only interested in your project but they are not aligned to your vision. In fact, it doesn't matter how good or innovative your vision is; if other co-founders aren't fully aligned with that vision, it has almost no chance of success. Can you first verify they are aligned with your vision or not. You should live your life by the motto, “trust but verify.” You should first find out what is the issues. After that, you can work on fixing the same.
Dean Kroker
1. Prove that you have a Must-Have product that solves a real macro problem. e.g. can you get 10,000 people to like it on social media or sign up on a 1pager homepage? 2. Share with the others why you plan to contribute all of your time, energy, and interest into solving this problem. 3. Ask the following while with your team: ---> [Gauge interest] Will you (or your founders) be sick of it long before it's done? ---> [Gauge contribution level] Do you actively contribute to the industry that you're aiming to disrupt? If not, you're at risk of reinventing the wheel. ---> [Gauge importance] Is solving this problem truly important? Are you willing to put money into it? 4. If you don't have all three in #3, move on :)
Md Salehin Khan
Its a great challenge to put every one on same page when it comes to productivity. I am also having the same issue.
Nachiket Patel
I think having a mutual agreement for every idea that you implement is mandatory because if the idea fails the blame has to be borne only by one person. If the idea works the credit is shared by all. It is best to have a mutual agreement for all the ideas. Sometimes others won't agree with what you think. In that case, I explain to them why I want to execute that particular idea. We then try to do the SWOT analysis of that particular idea and understand its significance. Since our primary goal is to execute everything that is for benefit of the company, we check the idea from the same angle. If the things are in favor it is likely that my teammates will agree with me. However, I prefer suggesting an idea that is backed with practical examples as it is easy to make others understand and they can also see the benefits of those ideas in a practical version. If the idea or suggestion is only theoretical, it will be inconvenient to keep everyone on the same page.
Makoae Wilson
@patelnachiket Thanks for the comment but idea generation or suggestion is not an issue here. First to even have everyone attend a meeting where we discuss the project state and share ideas, the non committed co founders can even say " I won't make it, you guys can decide and then I will work on whatever descision made", now that sounds like an employee and not a co-founder, even if the are present in the meeting and suggest something..... They do not show interest of implementing whatever that needs to be done. Even moving an issue to "in progress" on Jira is tough for them.
Nevo David
It's better to find friends and do vesting. Also meeting as much as possible to work together. Working from home is really a killer.
Hugh Geiger
Two words. SUNK COST! :D Especially early, set smaller milestones, get wins quickly. This drives emotional investment, and over time.. the fear of losing what has been contributed will fuel further commitment. Some people aren't motivated by this loop. They need to be prodded. These people should be fired / let go. You need cofounders, cofounders are self driven, true believers. They won't be on day one, but they will grow into it. They should demonstrate ownership behaviours early - ie using personal time to solve problems, prototype... they should be proactive.
Reporting Accounts
You need to keep the dialogue going, its tough to do but its the key to success. If you take the time to find out about your colleagues their interests etc it can give you more things to talk about also and help build a common interest.
Prabhat Sahu
Having a clear idea and vision aligns everyone. "Throwing shit against the wall and seeing what sticks" is the worst way and demotivates the team. You need to be communicative and open minded