Conflict is inevitable in any startup, so here’s how you can make it work for you
Beginning a new venture by yourself has its advantages:
You know who the boss is.
You have one vision. Sure, it might change over time, but it’s owned by just one person.
You answer only to yourself (depending on if you have investors or not).
But heading into the challenge with a co-founder or two can be a great decision as well:
More minds = more expertise and experience.
You have a sounding board for big ideas.
If you are about to make a big mistake, there’s someone on your level who can call you on it.
Though some might argue there are many disadvantages to having co-founders (equity split, anyone?), the biggest potential problem is intra-founder conflict.
It is inevitable. Whether your partner is a longtime significant other, friend or a colleague that you have years of experience working alongside. It could be someone who has been a personal hero of yours for decades that you hugely admire and saw as a big win when you got them on your team. It could be a legend in their field who brings with them cachet you could never hope to match.
No matter who your co-founders may be, there will be debates and disagreements that devolve into angry words.
And the thing about it, which isn’t immediately obvious, is that some fights are GOOD. It can be a good sign when two co-founders both get so worked up about how to best handle a PR snafu, how to address a big UI/UX problem, or what exact project or client would be best for the business to pursue next.
Because fighting with each other means you both care passionately about the problem.
Walking away from the issue, not addressing it, allowing it to fester or grow, is a sure sign of apathy. When you find yourself getting into a heated discussion with your co-founder/s over what to spend some capital on to improve the product or operations means that all of you actually give a damn about what happens next.
Set aside a little time, in the earliest days of your startup, to set down some rules to follow when conflicts like this arise.
Just like in boxing, “no punching below the belt”.
Leave personal lives and choices out of it. If Founder C is spending most of his salary on a luxury condo in the Valley, that is their business. If Founder B chooses to move a thousand miles away from the office to be closer to family, that’s her choice.
Will it hurt the customers, the product, the business?
All of you should agree to focus on what’s best for your users/customers and the business as a whole. Nearly every disagreement can be settled by numbers: What decision results in the best ROI? Which choice will net you the largest proportion of satisfied users? Whoever can prove their case with cold, hard facts should be awarded the victory.
Having passionate, driven individuals as your co-founders is a good thing. If your fights have roots in what the business means and what its future will be, embrace it. And if the fights are personal, it means something else is wrong and there needs to be a non-business-oriented solution.
Every single fight has a “best” outcome. Don’t be afraid to get there.
Thank you for reading and sharing!
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