How to split equity fairly between founders?

10 June 2022 ยท Updated 07 July 2022

I'm looking for a good way to to share equity between a co-founder and myself. Any advise on tools, websites or just personal experience are really appreciated.

So I've been working on a startup that helps people find homes to buy. About three years ago I met a software engineer who's been a tremendous help ever since. I gave him some vesting equity (15%) in the company and a low salary which I paid for myself as we didn't make any profit yet. As he did a great job I offered him to increase his equity to 20% of the company, of which he replied he would like it to be more in the range of 49%.

IssueI have the feeling that what he's asking for is a lot, but truth be told he has done most of the (technical) work so far. I brought in some cash and a did some marketing stuff to get us 20'000 users on instagram. I want to share the equity fairly between us but I don't know the proper way to do it.

If you have any good ideas on how to share equity, I would be really thankful!


It’s easy to think of equity as being valuable in and of itself, but that’s not exactly true. Equity is a claim on future profits.

This means that if your company does well, considering the risk, you’ll have a larger share of the pie than you would have otherwise. But if the company does poorly, then having more equity won’t help anybody much at all. More Risk = More Rewards.

I know that the last thing you want to think about when your business has millions of other problems to solve is splitting equity between co-founders. And this person does seem to sound like a co-founder, considering that he did most of the technical work and you brought the cash. CTOs equity is a topic we already discussed. Nonetheless, I think 45% is too much, considering that you were the one taking all the risks. I would probably suggest sticking to the 25% and offering him a vesting schedule for some more stock options over the next few years.

It also depends on what kind of salary were you paying him and how much value the current 15% equity has. It’s normal to pay less than market rates at the beginning – that’s exactly why there is additional equity, but if he’s getting a salary then he shouldn’t expect too much of equity.

Quick math for equity distribution related to the salary:

  • If the person is getting proper salary โ€” just a normal employee. 1% Equity if they prove that they’re highly interested in staying with the business long-term.
  • If the person is getting lower than market rates โ€” 1-10% and possibly adding to the management board depending on how much of a hit on their salary they take. Their salary opportunity cost IS their investment in the business.
  • If the person is getting zero salary โ€” 10-50% This is co-founder level.

Another question you might consider: how replaceable is he? If the person is highly valuable to the organization, then it will be difficult for you to negotiate, but he will also be interested in the project continuing. If the person is replaceable, it may be easier for you to get what you want out of the situation. However, you may have to give a little more to make sure that he leaves on a good note and isn’t just looking to get under your skin.

One more point to consider โ€” tying their equity to performance. This will ensure that they’re performing at a high level and are working hard for your company’s success. Finally, adding a vesting schedule on top of all of this ensures that they stick with you for the long haul and continue working hard towards making your company successful. Win-Win basically ๐Ÿ™‚

Shouldn’t I get more shares because I came up with the idea?ย No. Ideas are pretty much worthless. You don’t get paid for your idea. Ideas aren’t worth much unless you do something with them. Working on the company is what brings value, not thinking up some crazy startup idea while lying on the couch.

Tools to calculate equity:

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  • Sven

    Equity should indeed reflect contribution and commitment, not just initial ideas. A vesting schedule is a smart move; it keeps everyone motivated for the long haul. Learned that the hard way with my first startup – commitment over ideas, every time.

  • Mia

    I genuinely appreciate the straightforward approach you’ve taken in discussing equity distribution, particularly stressing the point that ideas, while exciting, don’t hold value until they’re put into action. This resonates with my own experiences, where I’ve seen too many get caught up in the allure of a ‘big idea’ without focusing on execution. Your emphasis on a vesting schedule and tying equity to performance is something I wholeheartedly agree with. It ensures that contributions are continuously aligned with the company’s success, rather than resting on initial contributions or ideas. This perspective is often overlooked but is crucial for long-term sustainability and fairness in startups. Your simple breakdown of equity relative to salary also provides a clear, pragmatic approach to thinking about equity, which I find incredibly useful for anyone navigating these decisions.

  • Quinten

    Adjusting equity distribution is a challenge; your approach offering a mix of vesting schedules plus performance incentives seems fair. I’ve seen too many startups overlook the importance of linking equity to long-term contribution. Itโ€™s not just about the initial idea or investment, but the ongoing effort that really builds a company. A structured yet flexible equity plan that reflects contributions, risks, and changing roles over time can really make a difference. I particularly found your quick math on equity in relation to salary insightfulโ€”something many forget to consider seriously.

  • Tanmay

    I completely agree that equity division is critical in startups. One thing I’ve learned is setting clear, performance-based equity agreements early on really helps everyone stay on the same page. A mix of vesting schedules with performance incentives keeps the team motivated for the long run. It’s more about what you bring to the table over time than just the idea or initial investment. This approach not only ensures fairness but also builds a solid, hard-working company culture. Definitely a move that can drive sustainable growth and keep the team content.