A co-founder relationship is like a marriage, you have to commit to growing with your co-founder(s) as they evolve. And, hope they give you the same respect and leeway. 

People are in a constant state of flux. They are constantly trying new things and evolving who they are. That is why relationships are so terrifying and exhilarating. You are building a bond with another human who is not going to be the same person in 2 years, let alone 10 years. That is also part of the fun, you do not know where they are going and you get to be a part of that journey.

Change is extra terrifying when it impacts a business partnership. Not only are co-founders linked financially, but they also have a family of employees and clients. If the co-founder relationship disintegrates it affects everyone. When my business partnership disintegrated it resulted in the sale of the business and everyone losing their job. That outcome is not as rare as you would hope.

Will you commit to growing with your co-founder as they change? What could this change look like?

  • Your co-founder works 60 hours a week now and you can’t imagine them changing… but in five years they have a family and want to cut it down to 30 hours a week with Fridays off. Their priorities have changed. Meanwhile, you have gone from working 40 hours a week to 70 hours and want to expand the business to Europe.
  • Your co-founder is the CEO and as the company grows they get a lot of recognition while you are still running a small operations team. They like the publicity and have changed, not a bad change, but just a change that you didn’t expect. You love what you do, but it also bugs you how much recognition they are getting.
  • Your co-founder joins a religion and is making massive changes in their life and outlook. These changes are influencing how they make decisions and how they behave.
  • Your co-founder had low self-confidence, but over the years has started working out, lost a lot of weight, and done a lot of personal work. They are a lot more confident and have changed. Your relationship dynamic has changed because of this.

 

You are probably nodding your head if you have gone through something similar with a spouse or friend. For those who haven’t experienced this, you might be thinking these are ridiculous examples that are easy to solve. What you are missing is your emotional reaction to the question “who is this person I thought I knew?”. You will be stunned at how a subtle change that happens over a long period in you and someone else can lead to big problems in a relationship. That is why it is so important to groom your co-founder relationship and stay connected as you both evolve.

How will you react when your co-founder has a personal crisis?

What might this personal crisis look like, and how would it affect the business?

  • Your co-founder develops a drinking problem that is affecting their work, they do not see the problem and are refusing to get help.
  • Your co-founder gets a woman pregnant but refuses to acknowledge it is his child. He is a total asshole at work and the stress is just dripping off of him.
  • Your co-founder’s husband gets cancer, she doesn’t want to take time off work and is working 70 hours a week and a total mess. She is abusive toward you at work which is totally out of character.
  • Your co-founder is going through a divorce or mid-life crisis and wrecked. Not only that but they are treating you abusively and blaming you for everything wrong in their life.

 

We like to pretend that business and personal are separated by a big barrier but that isn’t true. It is usually the personal side that causes the most turmoil in a business partnership. When you are going through a personal crisis it is hard to get perspective and often you flail about blindly trying to escape. If your co-founder is going through a personal crisis, you are going to be in the wake of that flailing and it will smack you and the business in the face. Responding in the right way can be very hard, if not impossible.

Your co-founder and you are joined at the hip, now for the good news.. Building a business with someone else is fun! It isn’t all doom and gloom :). I think you should enter into a business partnership with your eyes open. There is always a risk that your co-founder relationship will break down. That is why it is so important to invest in the co-founder relationship and keep it groomed. You have to commit to growing with each other as you both evolve.

I created this site to help co-founders have stronger relationships because I do not want to see another partnership end like the one I was in. Can you help the site by answering a few questions? Or, would you like to write a post? Feel free to contact me.