Healthcare Entrepreneurship: How to Divorce your Cofounder

Healthcare Entrepreneurship: How to Divorce your Cofounder

The love is gone. Ideas haven't had sex in months. The infatuation is stale and now you are surrounded and stressed by the startup blues. You and your cofounder are at each other's throat, some have gone dark or simply no longer are meeting expectations or deadlines. Maybe it's time for a divorce.

Consider the process in three stages: 1) what to think about before breaking up, 2) how to break up, and 3) what to do after you have severed ties.


There are a few key questions to consider before you make your decision on how to proceed:

1. What is in your co-founder’s way?

Is your co-founder being held up by a lack of clarity? Is it a lack of motivation or a lack of autonomy? Why are they not pulling their weight? Just sitting down to talk with them could help clear this up.

2. What job was your co-founder brought on to complete?

Is this job being completed? Maybe you need to define your roles better, or maybe they are in the wrong role.

3. Is your co-founder capable of doing the job?

Do their skills match their position? Sometimes, startup founders bring on close friends because they trust them, but then come to realize they are in the wrong position and the company suffers because of it. If your co-founder is not capable, you either need to lay them off or find a better spot for them within the company.

4. Do you just simply not like the way this co-founder works?

People work differently. Some like micromanaging while others prefer a more laid-back management style. Does your style match theirs? Is this something you can work on together, or is it a deal-breaker? If it’s the latter, maybe you should reconsider your position and theirs within the company.

5. Do you still trust them?

6. Do you have a valid agreement in place?

7. When is the time to separate such that you can execute Plan B?

8. Do you have mentors or advisors you can consult?

9. Who needs to know-investors, other cofounders, spouses?

10. Do you have a PR crisis management and communications plan after you pull the plug?

11. Have you discussed the problems with members of your board of directors?

12. Is the problem you? Should you be pointing your thumb at yourself instead of the finger at your cofounder? Is it time to divorce yourself?


Find the right accounting, tax, PR, investor relations and legal advisors to educate you about the options, the process and the immediate and longer term consequence if you decide to proceed.


The world is a small round place so it is likely that you will run into your ex sometime in the future. What's more, it is likely that your baby i.e.your company, will be affected by how you treat each other. Take the long view, add it to your failure resume and move on. Knowing the limits of one’s ability and understanding when it is best for the organization to have another assume power is perhaps the greatest quality any leader can possess. And it’s a rare talent indeed.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs on Twitter@ArlenMD and co-editor of Digital Health Entrepreneurship.

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  • Richard Fisher

    Sometines it's complicated, and it usually involves both parties being poorer for it.

  • Matthew Sullivan

    Firing a co-founder is way more complex than firing an employee.

  • Linda Godlinski

    Differing visions lead to divorce

  • Jimmy Capel

    Working with two or three cofounders is tricky in general.

  • Trevor S Eliason

    When you don't see eye to eye, don't be ashamed to make a tough decision.

  • Simon Brame

    You will have to step up your game or bring in someone else to pick up the hole left behind.

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Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

Former Contributor

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is a professor emeritus of otolaryngology, dentistry, and engineering at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Colorado School of Public Health and President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at He has created several medical device and digital health companies. His primary research centers around biomedical and health innovation and entrepreneurship and life science technology commercialization. He consults for and speaks to companies, governments, colleges and universities around the world who need his expertise and contacts in the areas of bio entrepreneurship, bioscience, healthcare, healthcare IT, medical tourism -- nationally and internationally, new product development, product design, and financing new ventures. He is a former Harvard-Macy fellow and In 2010, he completed a Fulbright at Kings Business, the commercialization office of technology transfer at Kings College in London. He recently published "Building the Case for Biotechnology." "Optical Detection of Cancer", and " The Life Science Innovation Roadmap". He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology and Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship and Editor-in-Chief of Medscape. In addition, He is a faculty member at the University of Colorado Denver Graduate School where he teaches Biomedical Entrepreneurship and is an iCorps participant, trainer and industry mentor. He is the Chief Medical Officer at and and Chairman of the Board at GlobalMindED at, a non-profit at risk student success network. He is honored to be named by Modern Healthcare as one of the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives of 2011 and nominated in 2012 and Best Doctors 2013.

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