By Stefano Maifreni, founder of EggcelerateIt’s easy for the excitement to take over when starting out. Targets, finances, campaigns, spreadsheets and regular business issues are vital. But all this activity can mask significant differences between a company’s co-founders.
Pressures between founders can bring personal differences to the surface, and these can become major disagreements. The following are four key areas where differences can put a strain on working together:
Different dreamsWhat does each of the founders want in five, 10, or 25 years’ time? To change the world or to get acquired by a large player and exit with wads of cash? It’s important to be on the same page from day one. Having different business goals will lead to conflict and seriously affect the company’s direction.
Different geographiesYour team’s proximity to each other is directly linked to the ability to manage expectations. The people that live and work in the same place can meet, discuss and make decisions – often in a spontaneous way. But remote colleagues can feel excluded from the decision-making process.
Even with the latest tech offerings, face-to-face communication is always better in this scenario. It’s easy to misunderstand the tone of an email and miscommunications can have disruptive effects and erode trust.
Remote partnerships can succeed with good communications, equal input from everyone, and regular calls. Sometimes decisions need taking quickly, so the remote partner needs to make themselves easy to contact, or delegate some decisions.
Different strategiesOften friends go into business together and find it can be difficult to enjoy the same strength of relationship at a professional level.
It’s important to have a structure in place, to define how to make decisions and what to do in case of disagreements. Formulating a shareholders’ agreement at the outset is fundamental.
Think about what can go wrong and add it to the agreement. If things are working you’ll never have to read it again. But if things become challenging, the agreement is essential. I know of co-founders who have an equal share of the company but no shareholders’ agreement. They were unable to decide if and how they should bring their start-up to the next level, and lacked the legal ground to unlock this difficult situation either way.
Different levels of resilienceDisagreements can drain the life out of people, and early enthusiasm can ebb away. Even in healthy and active working relationships, sooner or later, you’ll disagree. This is usually amplified by stress, workload, lack of sleep, and is ultimately governed by each person’s level of resilience.
Here is where the other points come together. Primarily, you need a deep respect for each other, patience and an understanding of each other’s skills, roles and experience. Sometimes a decision is more to do with the other person’s side of the business. Sometimes you just have to ‘let things go’, while the other person does the same on points that matter most to you.
I would strongly urge anyone in this situation to agree some helpful ground rules, possibly with the help of a sympathetic expert. It doesn’t have to be a dry, awkward, clinical experience but is a good way of thrashing out important details before politics or other problems rear their ugly heads.
Having ground rules will give everyone added confidence as you move forwards. Over time, they’ll effectively serve as that grounded and sensible voice in the boardroom that everyone can count on for impartial guidance.
Without thinking ahead, that first rush of enthusiasm that got your company started could disappear as quickly as it arrived.