Strategies for Bootstrapping When One Co-Founder Has Greater Financial Assets Than the Other

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

What is your best advice to startup co-founders who plan to bootstrap their business, but one has greater financial assets to contribute than the other?

 

1. Offset Cash Contributions With Additional Labor 

Charles MoscoeI’ve entered into founder agreements where different founders offer a different level of capital contribution, but that can be offset by additional responsibilities. For instance, for a startup that I am involved in now, I am financing the majority of the capital spend with the understanding that I will recoup my investment first, but my time commitment as a result is substantially less. – Charles MoscoeSkinCare.net 

 

2. Draft an Operating Agreement and Plan for the Worst 

jeff epsteinYou should draft an operating agreement that accounts for all the assets (and time plus energy) contributed to the business. The reality is many partnerships don’t last — planning for the worst (a breakup) will allow all parties to have full transparency on the range of outcomes and a full understanding of how to calculate the value of their contributions. – Jeff EpsteinAmbassador 

 

3. Keep It Equal 

Jared BrownIt doesn’t matter whether one founder has a million to invest and the other just has ,000. If the business can succeed with just ,000 from each founder, keep it equal. It makes things much simpler and is better for overall accountability. If the business needs more funding, the extra money should be considered a loan, not an investment. – Jared BrownHubstaff 

 

4. Distribute Equity Fairly, Not Equally 

Nicole MunozThis may be counterintuitive, but splitting equity 50/50 isn’t the best solution for co-founders. Because each founder brings a unique set of skills, resources and assets to the table, equity should be divided based on those attributes rather than equally. Careful consideration now about how to divide the company fairly will eliminate many headaches and unnecessary battles down the road. – Nicole MunozStart Ranking Now 

 

5. Put Together a Spreadsheet 

Andy KaruzaYou need to put together a spreadsheet that adds weight to each person’s contribution. We devised a spreadsheet that places weighted values on how much a founder brings to the company in terms of cash, hours, intangibles, ideas, resources and unique management processes/documentation created. Agree to the value of these inputs collectively; then use it to determine fair equity compensation. – Andy KaruzaFenSens 

 

6. Balance Equity 

john ramptonBalance equity and cash put into the business. If one person is putting in equal time but more money he should get more of the pie over the other person. Paul Graham put together a very simple equation for startup founders bootstrapping. 1/(1 – n). In the general case, if n is the fraction of the company you’re giving up, the deal is a good one if it makes the company worth more than 1/(1 – n). – John RamptonDue 

 

7. Think in the Opposite Direction 

Blair ThomasWhether one founder has more capital than the other shouldn’t matter as much as what does the business actually require? If a founder can invest 10 times more than another, that doesn’t mean they should. Find the lowest capital commitment required to get the business off the ground so that founders can garner equity equal to the expectations they had in place while bootstrapping the company. – Blair ThomasFirst American Merchant 

 

8. Differentiate Between Financial Capital and Sweat Equity 

Ross BeyelerWhen posed with a situation where one partner can contribute more (financially) than another, consider creating two classes of stock and treating financial investments in the company different than ‘sweat’ investments. Split the business as desired based on your partnership structure, and then treat whatever investment is made by one partner the same as you would an external investor. – Ross BeyelerGrowth Spark 

 

9. Hire a Lawyer 

Kristy SammisUse whatever extra assets one of you has to hire a very good lawyer. In all seriousness, expert legal guidance is critical and always worth it in the long run. No one ever said, “Gee, I wish our working agreement had been less clear.” Whatever arrangement you come to, it’s not enough to get an agreement in writing; get a fantastic, ironclad agreement in writing. – Kristy SammisClever Girls Collective, Inc. 

 

10. Allot 20 Percent to Each Area: Finance, Operations, Sales/Marketing, Founder and Product 

Erik HubermanSplit equity according to which aspect(s) each co-founder contributes. If you can’t have a fair conversation on equity, don’t go into business together. If one finances the entire thing, that 20 percent is his. Split the percent for Founder evenly. It comes down to why you’re partners. Who’s the “product person?” Who’s got sales? How do you divide the work? – Erik HubermanHawke Media 

 

11. Have Active and Passive Roles 

- Engelo RumoraOver the years I have seen (and been involved in myself) way too many business relationships that go south due to someone not pulling their weight. The best way to go about this is to always have one person doing all of the work and the other person being more passive but investing most if not all of the funds. This keeps things simple with everyone knowing what is needed from them. – Engelo RumoraList’n Sell Realty 

 

12. Deferr Payouts 

Dan GoldenIf you’re keen on keeping a 50-50 split amongst co-founders, consider a deferred payout for the co-founder with greater financial assets. This lets one of the co-founders take larger draws upfront, and then even out the payouts once the company has grown beyond the early bootstrapping days. Sure, there’s some risk, but startups need cash to hire and scale. – Dan GoldenBe Found Online 

 

13. Be Balanced and Fair 

Julian MillerJust because a contribution isn’t financial, doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. I was at a well-paid corporate job and my co-founder was five years into a Ph.D. when we met. His contribution was potentially giving up five years of work to bet on our company. Because we aligned on what it meant to contribute from where we were, it was easy to build a solid, equitable base for our company. – Julian MillerLearnmetrics 

 

14. Have Skin in The Game 

Bryanne LawlessMake sure both partners have skin in the game, whatever it may be. If both partners aren’t equally invested into the company, where both need to be held accountable, the partnership will be uneven and the work-relationship could end poorly. – Bryanne LawlessBLND Public Relations 

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Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
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