Cofounder Equity Split Vignettes

By Peter Ziebelman, Matthew Saucedo, Jose Ignacio Garcia Suarez
2017 | Case No. E838 | Length 13 pgs.
This case study delves into the complexities of equity allocation among startup cofounders, exploring three distinct scenarios: DogBone/Whiplash, Kitten Mittens, and Bad Blood. Each vignette presents unique challenges and decisions faced by cofounders during the critical stages of a startup’s lifecycle. The DogBone/Whiplash story starts with an equal equity split among four founders and evolves through pivotal moments, including a cofounder’s exit, role adjustments, and a significant pivot in business direction. It highlights the dilemmas in reassessing equity distribution in light of changing roles and contributions. Kitten Mittens focuses on the dynamics between founders and investors, and the intricacies of negotiating equity splits when new members join the team. It underscores the importance of clear communication and understanding of roles in the investor-founder relationship. Bad Blood examines the relationship between two cofounders with differing visions and skills, emphasizing the challenges in balancing equity split with operational roles and contribution levels. This case ultimately encourages a nuanced understanding of equity distribution, considering factors such as founder experience, role differentiation, and the evolving nature of startups. It serves as a practical guide for new entrepreneurs, providing insights into navigating the often complex and emotionally charged process of equity allocation in startups.

Learning Objective

This case teaches the complexities of equity distribution in startups. Students learn how vesting schedules impact equity reassignment, methods for reallocating equity due to role changes, balancing equity for past versus future contributions, and criteria for distinguishing cofounders from employees. The goal is to equip students with strategies for fair and effective equity decisions in startup scenarios.
This material is available for download by current Stanford GSB students, faculty, and staff, as well as Stanford GSB alumni. For inquires, contact the Case Writing Office. Download