Why I Walked Away From an Exciting Cofounder Role | by David O. | Aug, 2022

Choose this one thing over career

Photo by Ivan Babydov

There is one thing you must consider and choose before going all-in on an entrepreneurial career. It might seem trivial initially, but it gets very important later in life.

This one thing is the lifestyle you want.

One thing led to another, and I was in a conversation to take up a cofounder role in a tech startup. But I was not going to compromise the lifestyle that I now enjoy.

The conversation ended as quickly as it started. Here is the full story.

I got a notification on LinkedIn from one of my contacts. I found it very interesting. I have not met this contact before in person. But we have had conversations on LinkedIn in the past.

He found me on Medium in 2020 and connected with me on LinkedIn. We had a quick chat, and that was it.

Fast forward to 2022, I saw this interesting notification, and I decided to get in touch. I sent a DM. In a few hours, he replied. And we started talking.

He showed me the projects he has been working on. And they were pretty interesting. So, I asked my favorite question:

So, how do you make money?

He was very open and honest. He said they hadn’t figured that part out. Now, I am 100% for making money in business. I don’t believe in businesses that aren’t making money. It is either making money, or it is not a business.

He sent links, and I looked at what they were doing. It’s a pretty exciting idea. But a lot would have to go into it to make it thrive. It was the typical startup, using technology to enable ease in a certain aspect of the modern human experience.

Have I ever seen a company that does something similar? No. Not that the idea is novel. But it bridges two different areas. I am pretty sure that someone would have tried something like that before.

And maybe failed for one reason or the other.

The market is not that huge, at least from my perspective. And there is no pressing need. The need is not dire enough to make people want to get it today. The product looks similar to insurance in concept — you get it before you need it. And that is not easy to sell in today’s world of instant gratification.

Anyway, enough analysis. Let’s talk about the offer.

They just raised money recently, less than $500k. This is not bad, considering it’s a small team about to release their MVP (minimum viable product).

The cofounder role is not a paid position. The founder (whom I was conversing with) isn’t very good with the business model and marketing sides of the business. So, he wants someone with strength in that area, so he can focus on the technical stuff he knows best.

And that is a good thing. It is a good thing he realized that early. However, their offer may not attract the best person to fill such a position.

I wanted to help. I always want to spring to action whenever I see an entrepreneur trying to create or do something very productive. And I wasn’t bothered about the no-salary thing.

I hate salaries. I utterly dislike all these employee benefits like 401k, healthcare etc. I am always like, “why 401k?” Just give me everything in cash. I don’t do stocks. I prefer not to do stocks. Don’t save money for me. Give me the money and let me do what I want with it. And I take care of my health in an unorthodox way, so healthcare benefits would be pretty much useless to me. I loathe all that pre-conditioning.

I wasn’t concerned with the fact that there would be no salary. The offer is mainly in equity and bonuses. That sounds interesting to me. But I had to drop in my two special conditions.

First, I would not be a full-time employee. I will only work as a consultant. I don’t care if the company is going to be a billion-dollar company tomorrow. I will not be a full-time employee over that. It took me some time to create the life that I now enjoy, which is about freedom, ease, and flow. I won’t trade that for anything.

Second, I will take a percentage of revenue. If I will not be paid upfront, let me take a percentage of the revenue. As far as I was concerned, I am coming in to create revenue. So taking a piece of that shouldn’t be a difficult thing to give up.

But this is where our conversation ended. They wanted a full-time employee, not a consultant. That is a dealbreaker for me. Big success comes with ease.

If we had discussed this further, perhaps I would have added my third condition.

Each person’s red flag is different. What you want from a business relationship isn’t necessarily the same as anybody else. I prioritize certain things in my life, and anything that threatens that is a red flag.

People talk about sustainable development goals; honestly, I don’t care. I don’t care about all the UN initiatives and all that. I’m not saying they are not good; I just don’t care. So, when a startup is boosting that their mission aligns with these initiatives, it is a red flag to me.

Business is all about doing (or creating) good things to make life better and easier (in other words, increasing productivity). And it is supposed to make money (as a reward). That is it. If you have to justify your mission with some UN initiative, I start to doubt your resolve to do the basics.

The basics of a business are to increase productivity and make money

Everything else is decoration and distraction. So, when I start seeing more decoration and distraction to the point where it is clouding the basic essence of business, that is a red flag. And yes, I saw something like that in this case.

Another red flag is if there are too many people you have to please as a startup, then there is a huge problem. When a startup is just at the MVP stage and has 15 different advisers, I’m out.

I believe in having advisers. I strongly recommend it. But not to the point of confusion. When there are too many opinions (in the form of advice), the startup will certainly lose track. The founders will start trying to please everyone.

The exception is when the founder is a true visionary like Steve Jobs, who will do what is his heart regardless of what anybody says. But the downside is that what happened to Jobs might happen again to such a founder. (I mean, getting kicked out).

I saw signs of this too. It’s probably a place where it will take months to get the approval to do things a certain way. I am not sure. This is just a guess. But it looks like it, so that’s another red flag.

There is a big green flag, though. They have raised money. That is a good sign. And those who backed them for seed or pre-seed will probably be willing to release more in later funding rounds. But this also leads to a kind of red flag.

If the money raised is insufficient to build a team to get the best possible candidates to make the business thrive, why not raise more? It might mean they have a budget, not funding.

Anyway, these red flags were the reasons I didn’t press further. I hope the startup becomes successful, but it is certainly not the type I want to get involved with.

I walked away from a cofounder role because it threatened my lifestyle. I know what it took for me to get my current work lifestyle. And I would like to advance it, not throw it all away for a probability of business success.

I wish this startup all the best and hope they get everything needed to be successful. The only thing that I would embrace as a “full-time” right now has to be something that enables the next level of the lifestyle I want.

The lesson here is to prioritize your lifestyle over a career. Choose the kind of life you want to live and then find the work that fits into that lifestyle. This is how to enjoy life.