Founder, Co-Founder, Partner, Owner

Something I hear a lot is “what does partner mean? whats the difference between a partner and a co-founder, and whats the difference between a co-founder and a founder”

Quite simply, they all mean the same thing but different people and companies use them in a different manner of ways. Let me explain.

When somebody is a Founder, it usually indicates the company was started by a sole person. An exception to this was at Facebook where both the titles of Founder and Co-Founder were used because Mark Zuckerberg wanted to distinguish himself from all others that claimed/litigated status as founders. This has been seen at other companies when someone is granted founder status later in the formation of a company and hence only considered a Co-Founder vs. a Founder. Another example of this usage is to denote the person who worked on the idea prior to bringing in the other “co-Founders.”

For me in general, if there’s multiple founders, all are/should be classed co-founders, if there is only one then a single founder title should be used. Although you can refer to all co-founders as founders, but I find the dual-class structure a bit distasteful and disingenuous (bad Mark Zuckerberg). Some companies prefer to use the title “Founder” for all people entitled to the title. One of the reasons for this is that when asked a Founder can say the company was founded with a partner or team. This helps avoiding potentially uncomfortable questions later on if a partner decide to leave, and in the case where there are only 2 Founders, prevents you having to change the title from Co-Founder to Founder if said partner leaves.

This then leads to the titles “Partner” and “Owner”, it’s pretty much the same thing. In my opinion a person can use either Founder, Co-Founder, Partner or Owner in their title if they are an actual Founder, Co-Founder, Partner or Owner. Usually early employees at a company don’t really get founders shares of equity so that is how I distinguish the difference.

I hope that has helped explain my understanding of the titles, this stuff isn’t really my thing, but I have learnt a bit about it over the last year. Let me know your thoughts and how you distinguish the titles. I’d really be interested to hear.

  • adamslieb

    A lot of it really has to do with the type of business you are in. If 3 people started a restaurant, they typically would say they were all “partners” not co-founders. Technology companies really use the term founder/co-founder a lot, and it often times doesn’t even mean they “founded” the company.

    This stuff all can be fairly confusing, as its not always what it appears. This was a nice clean explanation though.

  • Tony

    In my eyes, co-founder is typically used in one of two cases:

    1. When two or more persons were actually involved in the original formation of the company
    2. When only one person (the founder) was involved in the original formation of the company and they bring in one or more persons (co-founder(s)) early on that share their vision and that help to form the company

    I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head with your explanation though. Thanks.