There has been a lot of talk lately about the definition of founders and co-founders.  I think that the recent Tindr fiasco has spurred this round, but lawsuits and arguments are frequent issues from Snapchat to Facebook to Apple.

I think most startups want to have a nice clean founding story. Mary and Jane were sitting around one day; came up with an awesome idea; funded a company; raised a Seed; raised an A; raised a B; sold for $1B, etc.

This, of course, is not reality. Every startup story is messy.  Every startup has confusion on founders.

So who (or what) is a founder?

A founder is the team that laid cornerstone.

To quote the Wikipedia definition, “The cornerstone (or foundation stone) concept is derived from the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.”

People like to hoard founder titles. Founders don’t want to give them to other founders. Non-founders try to associate themselves as founders. It’s all in the name of the glory of starting the business.

I have met many “founding employees” or “founding team members.” I have also seen companies with five founders and one founder.  There is no one size fits all, but I have come up with a substantial definition of my own.

A founder (or co-founder, they should be interchangeable) is someone who took substantial risk and devoted substantial time to starting a new business with no immediate prospect of compensation outside of equity.

Here at Wallaby, we have had a several co-founders. While the company is sparked by my idea, it would not be here without each of them. Some of them committed substantially to the business initially, but later found a better fit elsewhere. They are not operating employees of the company, but they have the rights to be founders of the business.

Two of us, myself and Todd, are the operating founders. We put in the most time, most risk and will receive the most reward for the business.

Todd joined Wallaby many months in, but there was no guarantee of success (let alone fundraising) or money or anything. That’s why he’s a co-founder. He should be treated the same as if he was here day one.

When we’re all out having debates about who founded a company, it may be hard to know the real story, but perhaps it’s most important if we know what role we each played. I have been employee 1, 100 and probably 1,000,000. I have been a founder three times. That’s what matters.