How to go forward after the death of my technical co-founder?


I am asking this question on behalf of a friend, who until recently was bootstrapping a startup (a social web app) with her husband. He was the developer and she supported the business in other ways. In a very sad turn of events a few months ago, he died, and now she is trying to figure out how to take the company and the app forward.

I won't go into details of the app or the business itself, except to say that it has a small group of paid users who are posting content using the app. It has been in fulltime active development for 2+ years and is now quite sophisticated. A pretty typical approach, with a lot of Python on the server and HTML/CSS/Javascript on the front end.

Only he knew the code, but she does have all the passwords and account information for the AWS accounts etc. Although she hasn't been working on the code, she is an engineer and therefore not ignorant about the technology.

The question is: how to take the company forward?

She would like it to live on. Ideally she would like to participate in its future, but that isn't essential. She is aware of the difficulties associated with a new developer adopting an existing code base.

My thought was that she should frame her problem as the search for a co-founder. If you agree with this, what are good ways to approach finding a suitable co-founder in this situation?

Any thoughts / advice would be very welcome.

UPDATE: Thanks for the input thus far. Very thoughtful and useful answers. I will report back with the outcome.


asked Jun 15 '11 at 06:07
171 points
  • I would sell the IP/company or give away half to someone with expectation that they could buy her share out if it takes off. Open sourcing the stuff would work too. – Tim J 13 years ago
  • Open sourcing is an interesting idea that hadn't occurred to me. – Greg 13 years ago
  • What is her financial position? Could she hire someone with technical expertise? – David 13 years ago
  • Tim, I don't think this is an option. – Greg 13 years ago

3 Answers


Firsts of all, my condolences on her loss. It's a terrible thing, company aside.

Regarding her immediate problem. The choice is between getting a new co-founder, or partner more like it as the company launched already, and hiring a technical person as an employee. The choice depends on a few factors, the major being Can the business, with its current revenue stream afford a full time technical person?

If yes, i'd say this is the way to go. Hiring someone she can trust, or perhaps know through her departed husband's connections would be advisable, or she would need the help of a trusted friend who's a tech person to evaluate a candidate's knowledge and potential.

If the business cannot afford a full time person, the recruitment becomes more complex. the fact that the business generates some cash flow is encouraging, but getting the right person who'd take a cut of the company instead of a paycheck may prove to be tricky.

In any case, I'm willing to help with screening technical people for either positions (partner, hired developer) I'd do it for free of course. I have over 20 years of experience interviewing and being interviewed and i've been a hiring manager for past 10 years.

answered Jun 15 '11 at 06:48
Ron M.
4,224 points
  • Thanks Ron. The business isn't ready to support a fulltime salary yet. That's what led me to the co-founder approach. The offer to help with screening is extremely generous and we may still take you up on that if she gets to that point. – Greg 13 years ago
  • sure. keep me posted. – Ron M. 13 years ago


Last year I was contacted by the widow of a person I did consulting for - He/they owned a software product that still has/had a number of customers in the aviation industry.

She decided to sell the IP and needed help from me to transfer some knowledge and get all the ducks in a row.

I am not suggesting this as the best course of action for your friend - but it is an option and can be done.

I think the best way to find someone committed to the project is to find someone from the user base who can take a bigger role - or they may know someone. It is best to start off with passion/interest from the participant.

Let us know how it turns out.

answered Jun 15 '11 at 07:06
Tim J
8,346 points
  • It all depends on what "she supported the business" from the original message means. Does she have any business training or knows the vertical well enough to continue as the business leader? or is she clueless about the business, not just from a technical point but pure business side. If that is the case, your advice is the best course of action I think. – Ron M. 13 years ago
  • She is definitely savvy, but is not planning on being the business leader. – Greg 13 years ago
  • +1 The idea about looking within the user base is a fantastic one. Especially if your user base consists of "early adopters", which is generally the case for start-ups, there is a better than average chance of finding a tech oriented person interested in the entrepreneurial experience. – Justin C 13 years ago
  • Agreed Justin. We'll definitely explore that one. – Greg 13 years ago


It's a sad situation, and condolences to your friend.

In the circumstances, she is the business owner, but going forward she needs either to become a back-seat investor or to sell out. If she isn't the business or technical lead, future vision and ongoing development are going to come from elsewhere. I don't think 'co-founder' is relevant terminology.

Either of these directions - commercial or technical - could be a great starting-point. If I were advising your friend, I think I would encourage her to start with local networking groups to get a feel, and then widen the field by reaching out to community figures who are influential in her space, who may be a fast route to identifying relevant prospective purchasers or partners.

It would be well worth looking at how the initial customer base was attracted. There may be users, or influencers who helped the early stage promotion, who could be drawn into the conversation.

A sale may be the ideal outcome. However, if she goes forward with a partner, they could buy in, or she could offer sweat equity, somewhat de-risking the process, and helping her both to see her husband's work continuing and to realise some benefit from that work.

answered Jun 15 '11 at 22:07
Jeremy Parsons
5,197 points
  • Thank you Jeremy. This is very helpful. Particularly the point that it isn't really a co-founder relationship if she doesn't take the role of technical or business lead. – Greg 13 years ago

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