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When startup cofounders clash, things can get ugly

Things were rough between Bang and Olufsen.

Divorce Court

Last week The New York Times featured a remarkable tale of power couples’ therapy. No, not Kanye and Kim, but Ilan and Tom – the cofounders (along with Mahbod Moghadam) of Genius. Finding themselves constantly at odds with one another, the pair decided to turn to a couples’ therapist to resolve their problems. Let’s hope things go well – because it can get ugly out there for a cofounder.

The Big Kahuna

Sure, Genius’ domestic squabbles earned a New York Timespiece, but has David Fincher signed on to direct an adaptation? The dorm-room power struggles of Facebook’s founders scaled big once the company had become a $100 million megalith. Of the five original founders, three ended up suing Mark Zuckerberg for stealing the idea for HarvardConnection.com. Four years later the Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra finally settled with Zuckerberg for stock options eventually worth over $300 million.

No Bro of Mine

Snapchat founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy encountered their own legal woes when former fraternity brother Reggie Brown sued them in early 2013, alleging the idea for the app was originally his, and that he had been unfairly ousted from the company. The fighting frat boys eventually settled out of court in September last year, for an undisclosed sum. Perhaps starting up within any fraternity isn’t a good idea – seven month ago the founders of Yik Yak were sued by their own former bro, alleging they had unfairly fired him.

The Original Tweetstorm

You’d need a lot more than 140 characters to tell the strange, simmering feud between Twitter cofounders Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey. By the time both decided to start working on the platform full-time in 2008, a quiet power struggle had broken out between them, resulting in Dorsey’s ouster later that year. In 2011, Williams left the company, and Dorsey returned later that same month.

Ironically, both Williams and Dorsey are fairly private individuals, leading observers to read the tea leaves in occasional public statements and financial codices.

The Beats Goes On

There’s more to Beats – the massively successful, highly overpriced line of audio equipment – than meets the ear. Sure, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine famously cofounded the company, but a royalty claim filed last year suggests there’s a forgotten Pete Best behind the tech’s road to riches.

Former hedge fund manager Steve Lamar brought the idea for Beats to Iovine in 2006. After working on the design of the headphones, Lamar was pushed out of the company, eventually suing all and sundry for breach of contract in May last year (shortly before Apple’s acquisition of the company was officially announced). Apple fired back in September, suing Lamar for calling himself cofounder of Beats. Both cases remain unresolved.

Now go forth (and get along).


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