The simple truth behind successful co-founder relationships.
Being a co-founder can be absolutely fantastic. By having a partner, you avoid many of the pitfalls that founders often face. You have a sounding board for ideas, a source of support who understands everything you’re going through, and a capable set of hands to help you take on the incredible amount of work it takes to start a successful business. And of course, for your co-founder, you provide all of these things as well.
It’s really a beautiful system… until it isn’t. Call it the co-founder blues, a 12-bar refrain that inevitably leads to frustration, heartache, and the occasional buyout.
These blues come because there are simply too many decisions that need to be made as the business scales up, and it’s incredibly rare for two (or more) people to be on the same page for each and every one of them.
Disagreements are perfectly healthy, but over time, the disagreements between co-founders have a way of festering into something more. After all, as a founder and entrepreneur, the success of your business is one of the most important things in your life.
That’s an incredible amount of pressure, and when things don’t work out the way you want them to, it’s easy to place blame on the co-founder who altered your course. Easy, but unhealthy.
Here’s something to think about — the co-founder blues come from allowing negativity to grow over time and under pressure. But time and pressure are the same things that create diamonds out of coal, and that’s exactly what should be happening to the relationship between you and your co-founder.
The key to making this happen is to have a vision not just for your company’s trajectory, but for your company’s values. You and your co-founder need to be in alignment about the soul of your business, and the decisions you make must remain true to this vision. Otherwise, it is inevitable that disagreements will lead to the blues.
Scaling up a business is an incredibly difficult process, and there’s a substantial amount of “what if” and other second guessing even when things go right. Having a clear set of values eliminates a lot of this uncertainty.
Instead of thinking about whether or not your decisions led to the biggest profits or the most growth, which are the sort of thing you can never really know, look at how your decisions stayed true to the higher purpose of your business. This is something you can — and should — know as a fact. Eliminating this uncertainty is vital to avoiding the co-founder blues.
Think of it like this — when every decision is about profit or growth, you’ll always be left wondering if you could have made more by doing something differently. Even if a decision makes you a million dollars, you’ll wonder if you could have made two million instead. You’ll wonder this because you can just never know how things might have gone; it’s an open-ended question.
But when you have a higher purpose for your business — minimizing your carbon footprint, working to help end homelessness, or enacting some other positive change on the world — you’ll always know how your decisions measure up.
And that certainty is the best preventative when it comes to avoiding the co-founder blues. When you can look at every decision you and your co-founder have made and know 100% that it was in line with your values, it’s easy to keep the co-founder blues at bay.
About the Author
Dorothy Spence is a serial entrepreneur, published author, and speaker, and the founder of Imaginal Ventures Inc and The Purpose Led Business School. Her work with scaling purpose-led businesses through building supporting structures, procedures, and workflow systems has led to her being named the Canadian coach for SheEO and receiving the Top CEO Award, Innovation Award, and Professional Engineers Service Award.