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A friend of mine has started a startup where he wants to develop a very technical product that requires quite a bit of expertise in cloud solutions. He asked me if I knew anyone who might be interested in becoming a co-founder, since the workload has been way too much for him alone in the past few months. He been taking care of both sales and development since he started. I have another friend who is already working full time at a startup (as an employee) but might be interested, especially since his skillset matches pretty well what my other friend is looking for.

Initially I thought it would be a good fit, since I think they could benefit and complement each other pretty well. However, I also know that both of them have some peculiarities about them that might make them prone to conflict. Since it's very hard to avoid conflict in a startup environment, especially when a lot of money is involved and "work put in" or "value contributed "can never really be objectively measured, I started worrying that this might also affect my friendship with both of them down the line, since they will always be associating me as the one who connected them in the first place if things ever do go wrong.

I have not talked to my other friend about this co-founding opportunity yet. I was wondering if it's a good idea to just show him what this idea is all about and if he is interested, and maybe meeting with the three of us just to see if we (or they) get along, but I also don't want to be held accountable for any serious conflict that may or may not occur down the line.

Is there a good way for me to handle this situation?

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    This is a bit borderline on The Workplace. Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 14:42
  • @DJClayworth is there a better forum to post this to?
    – user118238
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 16:38
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    Interpersonal Skills? Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 17:52
  • @Yes - This isn’t a forum
    – Donald
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 22:56

4 Answers 4

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Is there a good way for me to handle this situation?

Ask the "other friend" if they are interested in being referred. If they are, then connect the two.

Hopefully the two are smart enough to talk and consider their situation carefully before making decisions. It's up to them to decide if there is a good fit or not, not you.

You don't need to be a mediator, and clearly you aren't making decisions for them. You are just providing names and connections. There is nothing wrong with that.

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    I believe that OP's concern is being able to retain friendship of both individuals if they ultimately become enemies to each other.
    – PM 77-1
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 16:04
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    @PM77-1: No person can guarantee the other party's continued friendship. That's just not how it works. The other party is always able to sacrifice the friendship over something arbitrary; whether it is being friends with someone they don't like, wearing the wrong short, or because their personal superstition convinced them to. That is not something we can meaningfully answer nor something OP can reasonably protect against. The only reasonable steps OP can take in regards to the matter at hand are listed in this answer.
    – Flater
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 5:44
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If one of them is unprofessional, do not refer them to each other.

It's easy to overlook the unprofessional traits in our own friends. But when it comes down to making professional referrals, you need to take those rose-colored glasses off, and not make implied recommendations you could later be blamed for.

But just to be clear, professional referrals are fine if you do not know the person that well. And that's because those can be prefaced with "I don't know that person that well." But if you've known the person for a while and if you know traits about that person that are unprofessional, then that's when you should avoid making professional referrals (because any referral you make of a person you know well will be seen as an implied recommendation).

With that being said, if those two individuals met through one of your events, and if they decided to work together without being prompted by you, that would be perfectly fine. And that's because no one can blame you for being friends with unprofessional people. Everyone has friends like that. Also in that case, it's not your job to decide whether two people would work well together.

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The request is already suspect, just as you've conveyed it to us. A heavy workload doesn't necessitate adding additional founders to a business venture. A heavy workload requires labor, and your friend who made this request is trying to get over by convincing some -- any -- technically competent person to work for free.

If I were you in the same position, I would simply pretend as if the request you received never took place. And if pressed, I'd just say there wasn't anyone I could think of who'd be interested. My response in the latter situation would be truthful, i.e. "I can't think of anyone who'd be interested in working for free".

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  • While I disagree with the premise that a cofounder is working for free, I will chip in that my personal experience has shown me that offering a cofounder status will generally not encourage people to work without active pay.
    – user83977
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 19:03
  • @iDriveSidewayz Visit the "Computer Gigs" page on Craigslist in any major city and there are loads of these "Need a cofounder, no pay but I have a million dollar idea' postings. It's a 'thing".
    – Xavier J
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 20:42
  • I might check those out sometime just to see XD
    – user83977
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 15:41
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maybe meeting with the three of us just to see if we (or they) get along

I wouldn't recommend that. If your goal is to keep your friendship with the both of them, i would suggest to tell your friend about the opportunity, maybe explaining him how the project is with the information that you have and give him the contact of your other friend, keeping you out of the topic (if that's what you want).

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  • I have problem seeing the difference between your answer and the top-rated one, as you seem to support the same kind of approach. Maybe you can clarify ?
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 21:01