How to not fall out with your co-founder

TRC 027: How to not fall out with your co-founder

founder experience Jan 18, 2024

Read time: 5 mins

It’s all very exciting when you are starting out.

Optimism and curiosity can take you and your co-founders a long way.

But what happens when the going gets tough?

How will each of you respond when there is far more work to do than hours in the day?

When a crisis threatens to derail your venture?

When you each have to take on tasks that you are less good at because there is nobody else to do them?

It can be difficult to predict.

Most founders I meet think that their investors will be the main source of disagreements, but the truth is, I am asked to intervene in more co-founder disputes than any other major type of disagreement!

You always think it won’t happen to you.

So what can you do to ensure your relationship survives the slings and arrows of startup life?

Building a strong startup co-founder relationship is crucial for the success and sustainability of your venture. Here’s an expanded view on the points you’ve outlined:

  1. Open Communication: Communication forms the foundation of a strong co-founder relationship. It's vital to establish a routine for regular check-ins, not only to discuss the business but also to openly share personal feelings and concerns. Knowing all the pressures that somebody is facing in their life, whether in the business or outside, can help you plot a course through difficult times. Being proactive prevents minor issues from escalating into major conflicts. Make sure to create a safe space where both of you feel comfortable expressing thoughts and concerns without judgement. Never assume bad intent - always have a discussion.
  2. Define Roles and Expectations: Clearly defining roles and expectations is essential to prevent overlaps and misunderstandings. This involves agreeing on who is responsible for what aspects of the business and respecting each other’s domains. It's important to regularly review these roles and ensure that the workload is evenly distributed, preventing one co-founder from becoming overburdened. Different parts of the business can move at a faster pace at different times. It’s key that you continue to work on balancing things between you.
  3. Mutual Respect and Trust: This is the basis of a healthy co-founder relationship. Remember the reasons why you chose to work with each other, and value the unique skills and perspectives your co-founder brings. There will be times that you don’t agree, and even during which the debates will become heated, but if you respect each other and what you bring, there will nearly always be a resolution.
  4. Conflict Resolution Mechanisms: Disagreements are a natural part of any business relationship. It’s important to establish conflict resolution mechanisms from the beginning. These could include mediation, taking time to cool off, or seeking advice from mentors. Having a predetermined approach to resolving disagreements helps in navigating conflicts constructively, without damaging the relationship.
  5. Shared Vision and Values: Regularly revisiting and aligning on your shared vision and values is crucial. This ensures that both co-founders are working towards the same goals, especially during challenging times. It helps in keeping efforts focused and aligned, and reinforces the purpose of your partnership.
  6. Acknowledge Stress and Seek Support: Recognising that the startup journey is inherently stressful is important. Don't hesitate to seek external support when needed, whether it's through professional counselling or joining founder groups for advice and shared experiences. Acknowledging and addressing stress not only benefits individual well-being but also the health of the business.
  7. Celebrate Wins Together: When you are on the startup rollercoaster, it's important to take time to celebrate your achievements, big or small. These moments serve as reminders of why you embarked on this journey together and help maintain motivation and morale.

You will hopefully have signed a founders agreement before you start which codifies what happens to shares etc if one of you wants to leave.

What more people should do is to have a document that outlines the way you will behave towards each other as cofounders.

When I started my first business, we signed a document which we called ‘Peace in our time’ which codified some of what we saw as the key points to keep our relationships working well.

The knowledge of what we all signed up to in that document helped us through some tougher moments.

Like any relationship, you have to work on it for it to thrive.

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