I work on a startup. So, managing co- founder relationships is one of my job descriptions. A lot of times I find myself engrossed in these heated discussions around product vision and strategy. In short I have experienced my fair share of co-founder conflicts.
The co-founder conflicts I have been a part of or heard about from friends or read about can be broadly categorized into two categories. first are the genuine one’s which are based on equity distribution, one co-founder not pulling his weight etc and the second category are just “ego clashes”.
Well figuring out how to avoid the genuine ones is a task that bigger companies and established entrepreneur have already concluded. Plus I have hardly every faced them. What I want to talk about are the “ego clashes”, which I think are more problematic for new entrepreneurs.
Sadly, managing our ego is something that we learn as we grow older
Here are some of the ego clashes that I have faced while working on my startup:-
1. There is a conflict on what do we choose for the platform, this could either be UI/UX or the vision of the product, basically there is a clash of opinions.
2. Either one of the person or in some cases all of the teammates feel like their opinions are not being listened to.
3. Everyone is trying to be in the driving seat
4. All the co-founders work in their own individual directions
5. You just can’t stand the other person. For me just hating the other person can sum up my relationship with my co-founder.
6. There is always blame being thrown at each other for anything that goes wrong
These cases will be different for you or your co founders because every one has their own unique problems. But the common thread “ego” is same in all the cases.
If I would have to sum these then i will say these situations arise when you focus more on being right rather figuring out what is right.
To give you better advice i will just take up a situation and tell you what I have done in the past. Then tell what I do now or what I feel needs to be done in such a situation in future.
Case 1 — Lets say we are having a discussion of what should be the new designs or the vision of the product
Earlier - Usually, I go to every discussion trying to come up with some thing concrete and meaningful end result. Like most of us.
But sometimes different people have different takes on issues. Some people like to push their ideas with a lot of jest. Then I start to push my ideas. Or the opposite happens, I can also be the starting point of the conflict.
Or in some cases all the team members keep on iterating the same points over and over again because they think that others are not trying to understand them.
And slowly the conversation has evolves into me vs them. So, the company has been left behind and the new thing is to win the argument.
If you ask the anyone in this situation, everyone will still say they are trying to figure out what is best for the organization.
But that’s not actually what is happening.
Now — I think the feeling of getting it all right is behind this. It is so gratifying to feel that I am right and the other person is just not seeing it. I just need to argue a little more for the other person to see my point.
If there is a argument it is more than likely that both the persons have contributed to it.
If there is a conflict on something, now I just let it be. With time you can see more clearly the impact of the other persons idea.
Also agreeing to the other person is also very effective (Daaa). Also if you feel like you are getting angry or feel you are doing a mistake. Just tell the other people where you think you are wrong. It just opens up the discussion where everyone can see if they are contributing to the problem.
Anytime, I have done this the argument has automatically dissolved.
Being angry/frustrated, arguing/convincing and trying to be right/proving a point is a combination that never works..
Also no one likes to be told on their face that they are wrong, it is very normal for anyone to defend their points.
Case 2 Couple of heated discussions have taken place (A pattern has started to develop)
Earlier- Now I am sure that the other guy is wrong because he just keeps on repeating his behavior. He does the same thing over and over again
Now I want to change him. It is my moral duty to shape him into a better person.
Change can not be possible without me outlining explicitly what is wrong in the other person. And he has the audacity to call my personal concern for him a personal attack, such an asshole
If he is doing the same thing now I see that even I am doing the same thing if I think like that.
You can give someone a little feedback that too if you act very considerately. Otherwise people will not listen to you.
Accepting that like you everybody is trying to do what they think is right. Accepting this is a big part of growing up. Unless someone is depressed all of them generally think what they do is justified.
There is no reason to get riled up because of that. With time everybody changes. you don’t have to change every body today.
Letting stuff slide even if you are right is a sign of a grown up person.
Case 3- When there is a conflict of interest, who gets the final say
Earlier- New entrepreneurs just love to debate stuff.
The best decision has to be taken all the time. It is by common agreement that we have to find the best course for the startup.
This obviously leads to discussions which result into both case 1 and case 2.
Plus, it is better to keep a record of who takes the better decisions, so that we can use it a starting point for the next discussion.
Now- If there is too much friction try moving into your own individual areas. Give every body their own area to express their creativity. People who actually become entrepreneurs have a larger desire to express themselves and their creativity.
So, it is but obvious that people will require areas in which they can express themselves.
Give the other guy his room to make mistakes. All of us learn from our mistakes. Trying to avoid mistakes just slows you down.
Make sure you just contribute to the culture of learning in the organization.
It has been my major learning over the year on working with startups that gut instincts should be taken out of the equation.
We all learn about lean startup but it takes a lot of time to get yourself out of the decision making chair and let experiments take over.
Case-4 Where do personal goals fit in a startup
Earlier — Initially, we had a small team. We were all generalists meaning in all the areas related to a startup we are neither complete dummies or experts.
So, every decision of a startup we discussed in meetings. The vision of the product was always contested.
But as the startup evolved people had to go into their individual areas. Everybody could not be the boss.
I am just say, inside everyone there is a desire to be acknowledged and shine in front of others.
As a new entrepreneur, the position of CEO looks like the best place to get it.
It kind of feels everybody is trying to grab the same chair in the room. To justify you get the seat you will have to justify getting it.
Now — If you are not a part of the grind, i think you just can’t be a part of the startup.
Early on you need to be able to both market and create your product.
You do not need another visionary in the team. If everybody is a visionary then there will be major conflicts in the organization.
Plus people need to be secure of their personal roles in the organization and what they bring to the table.
Even i have at some points in my entrepreneurs journey feel left out because I could not effectively contribute to the grind.
At such situation, I used to overcompensate and be more rigid in the product meetings. Because if I am not contributing even there then what am i here for.
So, I have realized that you need to be comfortable about what you bring to the table. Along with that you need to keep on growing with the startup otherwise at one point or the other you will start to feel left out.
Another thing I feel is that conflicts are part of the natural evolution process of any startup. When two thing mix up there is bound to be a reaction till a natural equilibrium is reached.
So the final advice is that at the end any relationship will involve a compromise. You just accept the other person for who he/she is. there are no perfect co-founder relationships. There are just immature and mature co-founders.
Let me know guys what you think about the blog post in the comment, i would love to hear about my mindset. I am also iterating on it. Do recommend the post nonetheless.
Here is the other list of article you can read on developing better co-founder relationships. Please leave your suggestions as well.
P.S — I work on a startup to share/ discover board of less than 10 links that solve a problem or do something amazing http://knowledgemaps.org/. Why reinvent the wheel when someone has already figured it out. We feel you can rather add your suggestions to make it even more better. Follow me on twiter @pavtiwana