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Does it have to be your idea for it to be your company?

The term co-founder is tricky. It implies that you were present at the inception of an idea. It suggests that you're the domain expert or the visionary. But what happens if you weren't in the room when the idea was birthed, or your role fills many of the other strengths required to succeed? Do you qualify to be known as a co-founder?

I've been asked this question before, and I often pause to understand the root source of the question. What is this title validating and why does it matter? Is it your equity, influence, or something else?

In my opinion, your contribution matters far more than the exact time you joined a venture or how much you shaped the initial vision. Tech companies are long lived, malleable ventures that need nurturing in many ways to take off. If you were there before a product, customers, team, or funding, you're worthy of the co-founder title regardless of you're equity split, domain expertise or absence during original ideation. What's most important is that you gravitate so intensely to the problem space that you make it your own and do everything in your power to bring the vision to life.

It doesn't have to be your idea for it to be your company!

How do you feel about this, and how do you delineate?

6 Replies

Bill Snapper
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Bill Snapper Entrepreneur
Owner Principal at SammyCO, LLC
No, you don't have to be the one with the idea. Seldom are the idea people the ones that can create a company. There's a reason there's a "founding team". It takes an idea, a vision, a product / service, and then turning this all into a company. An idea and / or a prototype alone does not a company make.
Dean Tucker
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Dean Tucker Entrepreneur
VP Sales and Marketing, North America at Beddit
Some founders have an idea for a technology or a product, but lack the business and personal skills to create a company with value. Other founders have a grand vision but lack the technical skills to create a viable product or service. Think of the original founding teams Apple, HP, Intel, Microsoft. Although there may be many others that were present at the beginning, it is the core few that actually create the vision and the company. They are the founders. While I personally don't like the title, "co-founder", it does suggest that you share your founder status. Not sure that matters to anyone other than your co-foundrs
Scott Durgin
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Scott Durgin Entrepreneur
Founder & CEO 440labs
As has been said many times, ideas are dime-a-dozen with the real challenge for any startup is executing on the idea. A co-founder title should be reserved for those who contribute significantly to the venture's very early beginnings, but this does not have to include the "idea" phase. In fact, a founder can work on something for quite a bit of time while formulating the "idea" before bringing a co-founder on board. So the key question is what kind of value can the co-founder bring in terms of execution to bring the company/team/product from 'nothing to something,' so to speak.

Also, a co-founder should be one of the most careful team additions and equity is usually the biggest consideration, with the right co-founder being closer to equal share than not; if not I'd argue that they may not be the right candidate. A bad co-founder can kill the venture as much as it can make it successful, hence the burden of choosing well and valuing appropriately in terms of equity.

Alex Kouznetsov
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Alex Kouznetsov Advisor
CTO at Startup-Genius
This is another question about"terms" - "who should be called what". And who should come out with the idea. Serious entrepreneurs should not worry about this.

Here is why:
Statistically entrepreneur has about 5x better chances for success when implementing idea of a prospect customer, not own idea. In this case the new company has idea already pre-validated and it gets the first customer before even having the product.

And in case the problem is painful enough, the customer will pay you to develop it too. And you could own the product and idea. The customer just wants the problem to be solved.

>>It doesn't have to be your idea for it to be your company!

It's better - when it's not. You will be too attached to your idea and sometimes this would mislead you.
Joseph Shanoltz
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Joseph Shanoltz Entrepreneur
CBDO at Raytec Energy
Creating an ideas has only a part to do with becoming an owner. Saying an idea is the only necessary component to a company is analogous to the notion that only a catalysis is necessary for a reaction. The idea is the first phase. Then there is execution and implementation. A team is almost always necessary for developing an idea into a tangible service or product. Also, the idea can change with the iterations.
Teamwork often leads to new ideas or implementations that improve the initial concept. If a team mate contributes significantly to the development of a product, they can be considered a founder.
Jasmine Alexander
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Jasmine Alexander Entrepreneur
Founder and CEO jazmine.com
I had been working on an idea on and off for several years and "recruited" one of my friends to be a cofounder somewhere along the way. Last year, I decided to take the plunge and go for it. Unfortunately, my cofounder needed to work full-time and had pre-school twins and therefore, not much time for what was "my" baby which I was spending all my time and money on. I ended up doing a lot of what I would expect a co-founder to have done. He was helpful but not in the way a cofounder needed to be. We managed to agree that he would be an advisor instead of a cofounder.
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