35

I've seen similar questions to this, but I feel this has sufficient and subtle differences that warrant a separate discussion.

As part of a University Project, myself and two other Software Developers 'hacked' together a project, that ended up winning a competition. The system we created has generated some excitement, and, as such, we are strongly considering moving forward with it as a business in hope of some commercial interest.

One of the team members is fairly incompetent, lazy and contributed nothing to the project, to the point he was a hindrance (the one extremely easy thing he attempted had to be corrected at our expense, as it was non-functional and could be done by us within 10 seconds).

He completely piggy-backed myself and my other team member's work for University credits and now is trying to do the same with a potentially financially fruitful business venture. He shows no signs of trying to improve or willingness to learn and help.

Neither of us want to carry this guy and give up a share in the company. The problem is we are good friends and will need to see him almost every day for our final year at University.

How can we kindly tell him we're moving on without him, as he can't bring anything to the table (not even non-technical skills)? He also seems delusional in our ability to work as a team, due to the final outcome and success of the project.

  • 38
    Well you did let him freeload for an entire semester... – enderland Mar 22 '13 at 20:00
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    Why are you friends with a freeloader? This is the definition of a bad friend that you need to cut off from your life... – CaptainCodeman Jul 20 '14 at 7:47
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    Just FYI - If you are going commercial with this, your friend has a stake in the company more than likely (using US law). It really doesn't matter what he does or doesn't do from this point forward, just saying he more than likely can lay claim. If you just cut him off more than likely he has a more equal claim. – blankip Apr 21 '15 at 15:29
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    Also, you might want to create a separate SO account if you're going to use what I assume to be your full, real, legal name in your publicly viewable account settings. – Cloud Apr 21 '15 at 17:20
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    It also may be that your friend has a part of the intellectual ownership of the project, so you may need a lawyer to see if you have to pay him out. – Magisch Apr 3 '17 at 7:34
58

I was faced with a situation where I had to cut my budget in half including people. I had hired most of the people that I was to let go. I had to make the call as to who would go and who would stay. The newest person on my team was with me over two years. We were all friends and family. I ended up letting go my best friend who I convinced to join my team. He was one of the highest paid and I could save the jobs of two others by letting him go. I also let go someone as you described as being carried by the team.

I looked them in the face and told them that this was a business decision and it was nothing personal. My best friend cursed at me and stomped out of the room mad. Later he apologized for his behavior and he thank me because he found a higher paying job. He said that really he liked the new company. We remain friends still today.

The other employee that was being carried by the team said he knew it was coming and didn’t say much. The months following the reduction in force the team’s moral improved greatly. We saw more productivity, everyone carried their own weight and everyone worked together better. It actually became a better place to work because we didn’t have that extra weight that we were carrying. If I knew what I learned prior to being forced to let people go, I may have chosen to let him go earlier.

My advice when letting him know if be, direct, honest, and positive as possible. Tell him that you have chosen to let him go as a business decision and it is not personal. You don’t have to go into the details behind your decision. Let him know that you are willing to be a reference for future employment. It’s not going to be easy but you will both be better off. He may find something he loves to do and can be more passionate about it.

  • 28
    "Let him know that you are willing to be a reference for future employment." - Hrm, sounds like that might not work out so well for him if he "is fairly incompetent, lazy and contributed nothing to the project" ;) – Ian Hunter Mar 23 '13 at 6:19
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    +1 I have similar experience when treating university friends in situation of "firing" them. Honesty, fairness and professionalism, this works. – yo' Mar 24 '13 at 23:19
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    Ian, it's not going to work out well for him if nobody ever sends him a wakeup call to get his act in gear either. At least by cutting him and sending him this message (as a consequence, not as the primary goal), there is a chance he'll find his own way. If he doesn't, you didn't want him around anyway, so there is no other path forward for OP than to let him go, right? – Kurt Tappe Apr 21 '15 at 15:27
25

Since it appears he was involved in the R&D (the university project), you may have an IP ownership issue. As stated above, you need a lawyer for that, so don't rely on what we say.

As far as involvement in the business, start with the truth. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but it will be easier now than a year or two later. If necessary, have a meeting of the entire team and have each member explain what value they would be bringing to the company. You may be able to use that opportunity to show how little he would be bringing and why he isn't a fit for the future work.

  • Good point. I hate to bring reality TV into this, but a similar situation occurred on an episode of "The Profit". Marcus had to help a good-hearted entrepreneur & his wife cut out a freeloading partner. The partner didn't take well to that & insisted on keeping his stake. The way around it they used was to threaten to re-incorporate as a different entity; one to which the person being cut out is not invited. The freeloader is left with choosing to take the buyout of the IP property or getting nothing at all. They'll take the buyout. You keep your company & name, all is well. – Kurt Tappe Apr 21 '15 at 15:33
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    Replying to Kurt's comment: I can't believe I need to say this. Do not take legal advice from Reality TV. Reality TV is not real. And even if it was real, it's not the same situation. And even if it was, it probably is not even in the same State. And yes, those kinds of laws can vary from State to State. – Stephan Branczyk Oct 30 at 22:08
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    The university may also have have a claim to the intellectual property. The poster needs to begin his potential business venture by visiting a lawyer. – MattH Oct 31 at 19:27
12

You just tell him that. It's business vs. personal relationship. Either you move forward with your business (without him) and if he wants to hold a grudge for a professional decision, there's nothing you can do about that. If you value your friendship more, don't move forward with the business if you intend to cut him out.

  • 5
    I don't think that may work. If it is the project they did together he could argue that he is a part owner, even if he didn't do the majority of the work. – Simon O'Doherty Mar 22 '13 at 18:50
  • Thanks for the advice. What kind of a position am I in legally here? He didn't come up with the idea, but was there when we finally decided to go with it. We also have proof of his lack of contribution to the project. – Calum Murray Mar 22 '13 at 19:54
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    @CalumMurray As repeatedly stated on numerous SE questions, "anyone who takes legal advice from the Internet is nothing less than a fool". We can speculate, but you'll have to see a lawyer for a viable answer. – TC1 Mar 22 '13 at 20:59
  • "If you value your friendship more" --- If he is a friend of the OP, he will understand the situation, admit his contribution was worthless, and let it go without making a scene out of it. Money issues are great to understand who your friends really are. – Daniel Mar 9 '17 at 18:10
  • @CalumMurray: For legal questions, you can ask on law.stackexchange.com . However, note that even there you will get an answer that is for "informational purposes only" - it will help you to weigh your options, but will not usually replace individual advice from a lawyer. – sleske Apr 3 '17 at 9:28
11

You might want to reconsider your definition of "friend" if it doesn't include being able to discuss issues frankly without worrying unduly about any potential harm you might cause.

If you have made your views clear all this while, he should already know what's coming. In this case, you should talk frankly with the view that there should be no room for misunderstanding down the road. He already knows he's not contributing and it shouldn't be a big issue.

If you haven't, then I'm afraid you might have left it too late. If he feels blind-sided, remember that you are probably partly to blame as well and exercise patience. It will probably be painful but try to clear it up completely. Having to revisit the incident won't do your friendship any favours.

  • 1
    Good points. I would say, unfortunately we haven't made our points clear, in an attempt to avoid confrontation before the project was due. I think he did mention that he felt he wasn't contributing much during the assignment, but now that it seems like we could make some money, he has become strangely quiet on that front. – Calum Murray Mar 22 '13 at 19:57
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    Do you owe him anything? If he hasn't contributed anything, you tell him that he didn't contribute anything and he is out. Tell him to make a list of his contributions if he disagrees. That's not confrontation, that's life. Like if we go together for a meal and one person "forgets" to contribute to the bill; telling them is not confrontation. – gnasher729 Apr 9 '15 at 11:35
6

I am going to add to the general consensus. A Russian proverb says "friendship is friendship but business is business" And I'd tell your friend "And right now, we are doing business" From my days as an engineering undergrad student, I learned the hard way that if I had to choose between a not so competent friend and a bastard who can get the job done, I should pick the bastard hands down. Choosing the friend would only result in my doing my job AND his job and seriously jeopardizing our friendship if not killing it outright. As for the bastard, I could always get rid of him without so much as faking an ounce of regret once I no longer needed him :)

Get your friend off the team by means fair or foul. In fact, by any means necessary. He is not only jeopardizing your mutual friendship but destroying the coherence and effectiveness of the team AND nuking your group's credibility with the world at large. Tell him whatever you want but he has to be out of the team by the end of the conversation. It's rough and tough, but that also may be the only way to preserve your mutual friendship in the long run.

5

Exactly the same way you would fire anyone else. It's hard to know what that would be, because there are cultural differences in play. But the point remains the same: In business, treat friends like anyone else.

For me, I would give him a warning, be very specific about what would need to improve to keep him on, give him a very specific timeline for improvement. And then, if he doesn't meet the targets as specified, then I would fire him. Best friend or someone I really dislike personally, it makes no difference.

If this affects your friendship, then frankly he was probably being a friend to manipulate you in the first place. The fact that he did this through a year of university and then you allowed him to be part of this suggests to me an unhealthy friendship (at best).

But, in the end, you can't treat people differently in business because they are friends. I have had to turn a friend down for a job before now, because it wasn't in the interests of the team for a number of reasons. We are still friends. Good friendships will survive; bad friendships you can do without.

5

Unfortunately you may already be past the point where you can easily prove he did not contribute to the project. Even if you can show he did little to no useful work, the fact that you both allowed him to continue to claim the work as partially his own in order to pass a course will make it hard for you to prove that he doesn't have any ownership claim to the IP of the project.

This will come into play if, later, you do find success and he chooses to sue you. There are many high profile examples (facebook, for one) of founders coming back for a share of the company even after they were "let go".

When you let him go, be up front, explain why, and ask him what, if any, claim he feels he has to the project. If necessary go over the code.

If possible, work with a lawyer in the formation of the company and explain the situation.

The best possible case probably won't happen - where he completely signs over any and all claim he had to you without recompense.

However, once you've explained to him how little he's contributed, and received his side of the story and how much he believes he's contributed, you should then give him a share of the company.

If your case that he contributed little is strong, he should be willing to settle for a single digit fraction of the company or less. Tell him you don't want him to provide further work. Document everything he has so far contributed, and as part of the contract that gives him a small share indicate that he accepts he has no further claim or interest in any of the IP, he signs everything away to the company for its exclusive use and ownership. Further, you should consider making sure his share does not provide him any voting or administrative rights.

Having done that, you should have a pretty strong case if he does attack you later. Yes, you lose a very small portion of the company, but it may prevent a much larger share being taken by the courts later if you do succeed. Further, at some point you may be able to make him an offer to buy out his shares soon after formation or initial investment. Having an interest in the company and selling the shares later only solidifies his acceptance of the situation, and will provide adequate proof that he felt he was compensated appropriately for his early efforts.

If you succeed, you will still make significantly more than him, and the small amount you lose should simply be considered part of doing business.

It's probably a small risk, but he'll be much more likely to accept and sign such documents now than after the company is formed, so do this as early as possible. Then buy out his interest as early as possible.

Also, consult with a lawyer and have them write everything up. If your company isn't that far along, then at least write down every contact you have with him regarding the business. You can make and sign informal agreements, but be careful - poorly written agreements may actually show him to be, in the eyes of the legal system, to be a more significant founder than he is.

2

I suggest for him and anyone else joining this venture, that you get something in writing that indicates what everyone's role and the expectations to their participation in this venture. There should be contingencies as well (loss of shares, etc.) Otherwise, you run the risk of someone else not pulling their weight and you'll be in the same dilemma.

As you consider making any type of offer to your friend, you should probably explain that you don't see any way he could fulfill any requirements, so why bother. Otherwise, if he wants to take on the challenge, he runs the risk of firing himself and wasting everyone's time. This way, it's his decision.

-10

This reminds me of the Facebook story. :)
It seems like in your question you have already made up your mind about firing him, I do not think that is immediately the best idea as in the future you could easily get sued by him if your project becomes successful, or other such complications. I think the first thing you should do is try to convince him to contribute more to the company. I have found on of the best ways of doing this is to make jokes about him like this:

Oh my god, how can you be so bad at coding!
What the (expletive) are you even doing here!
You do nothing around here!


these kinds of jokes will probably cause him just to laugh with you at first but the underlying truthful message will be delivered to him, and the truth always hurts! So he will probably start trying harder.
If he does not respond to this then the only option left is firing him. I do not think it is possible however to be friends with someone who you have fired, so that could be very awkward. On the bright side, however, you should't really be wasting you time on a person incapable of doing work. So, respectfully, F*** that guy!
As for the actual firing I would just go up to him and say something ordinary such as:

Hey dude I'm sorry but we are moving really fast here and I do not think you are keeping up the pace, so I am afraid if you don't step it up I will have to let you go.

Or something like that...
I sympathise with you, this must be a very difficult and awkward situation, good luck!

  • 1
    This is more of a commentary than an actual answer. – Chris E Apr 2 '17 at 22:25
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    I would never want to be on the receiving end of a manager giving me feedback by belittling me. – JonathanS Jul 28 at 19:45
  • Never try to inspire someone by making jokes about them like that. – さりげない告白 Oct 31 at 1:12
  • Wtf, that's not joking around, that's just being an @$$hole! A good leader should inspire and motivate, not be a jerk. – Green Cell Oct 31 at 6:17

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