Startup Team Questionnaire

Startup Team Questionnaire: Planning for Success

It is a rare successful endeavor that can be embarked on alone.  Launching a business with others can be an immensely rewarding experience.  It can also be a nightmare.  Frank discussion of the issues that partners will encounter is essential at the outset.  Having a written partnership agreement can minimize the areas of contention by forcing exploration of the issues in advance and by having a common frame of reference as issues come up.  The following questions raise topics that need to be explored and discussed between potential partners in the early stages of business, before a venture is commercially viable.  Questions A2-6 do not necessarily need to be built into the partnership agreement, but the others should be clearly addressed in a written document.

A.  Are You Right for Each Other? 

  1. What is each partner’s long range vision for the company?  A clearly written mission statement, even if it may evolve, can keep the partners working in the same direction.

  2. What is each partner’s long range vision for themselves?  Are they in for the short term or the long haul?

  3. How did the partners come together?  How long have the partners known each other?  How long have they worked together?

  4. What does each partner see as their primary strengths?  What do the other partners see as that partner’s primary strengths?  Do the partners’ strengths complement each other?  What areas are missing?  How are they planned to be filled?

  5. How hard does each partner want to work?  How committed is each partner?

  6. Who else thinks they are a partner?  Who has helped out along the way?  What promises have been made to whom?

  7. What keeps you awake at night?

B.Roles and Responsibilities.

  1. What functional responsibilities does each partner have?

  2. How much discretion or authority does each person have in their functional area?

  3. What title does each have?

  4. How much time/effort/results is required of each?

  5. What happens if partner does not do their job?  What if they try hard but don’t get it done?  

  6. How do the partners communicate?  

  7. Who keeps track of the combined effort?

C.Decision-Making.

  1. How are decisions made?

  2. How do you keep track of decisions and results?

  3. How are disagreements resolved?

  4. What are the primary areas of disagreement so far?  Address these specifically.

  5. Who can commit the partnership?  For example, who can sign contracts or checks?  For up to how much?

  6. What is the recourse of the partnership for unauthorized commitments of a partner?

D.Financial Issues.

  1. What is each partner contributing to the partnership at the outset?  The idea, cash, property, other assets, services?  Think broadly—customer contacts, a computer program, introductions to money, etc.  If it is a contribution over time, what happens if the partner doesn’t make the contribution, in whole or in part?

  2. How much money, if any, does each put in?  What if (when) more is required?

  3. What are the relative values of the partners’ contributions (cash, other property, services)?

  4. How much of the business does each partner own at the beginning and how much will they own over time?  What do they need to do or contribute to get there?  What if they don’t do that?

  5. Where does the money go when it starts to come in?

E.Partner Issues.

  1. What if a partner wants out?  What are they entitled to when they go?  Can they force a buy-out?  What is their interest worth?  How is it valued?

  2. What if the others want a partner out?  Can a partner be forced out?  What do they still own?  Can the others require the partner to sell their interest?  How is it valued?

  3. What if a partner dies?  Is incapacitated?

  4. How do you decide to bring on a new partner?  How do you determine the terms?

  5. What confidentiality requirements are there?  Measures for protection of trade secrets?

  6. Whose idea was it?  Who owns the idea?  Can anyone take the idea with them?  Or start a competing business?  (Non-competition clause.)

  7. Will the partnership form a limited liability entity?  Which type?  When?

  8. What is each partner willing to give up to take the business to the next level?  New money and new talent will require some or all partners to give up roles, titles, ownership, shares of profits, etc.

  9. What does the next level look like?

  10. What is the exit strategy?

  11. What if the venture is not commercially viable after a certain point?  One or more partners may want all or parts of the idea or property of the business to keep trying or go in a different direction(s).

F.Keeping Up.

  1. How often do the partners revisit these questions?

  2. Go through these questions and discussion with each potential new partner.

  3. How is the agreement changed as the answers to these questions evolve, new questions come up, partners leave, and new partners are added?

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