Co-founder conflict is very common but easy to prevent

Despite the massive benefits it brings, co-founding a business can feel like a stressful marriage – but here’s how to turn it into a healthy one

Co-founder conflict is very common but easy to prevent

Recent research commissioned by Octopus Group, the investment network, suggests that when it comes to building a successful startup, two heads or more are definitely better than one. For instance, 87% of entrepreneurs with co-founded businesses say having another founder’s resulted in more success. Even those without one recognise the huge potential, with 76% saying it would have made their business more successful. However, life with a co-founder isn’t without its ups and downs. 39% admitted the relationship was more stressful than with their life partner, while 37% said it was equally stressful. In fact, just 23% said it was less so.

So how can you ensure your co-founder relationship doesn’t go down that road? Having been a co-founder of a successful business for nearly two decades, I have five crucial tips.

Share roles and responsibilities

Most entrepreneurs want to do everything but co-founders need to learn to use their time more effectively. After all, if both founders are sat in the same meetings all the time then important duties elsewhere risk being left unattended. In my experience, it helps to establish different roles and responsibilities as soon as possible to avoid doubling up on effort unnecessarily. That requires trust and ultimately, being a good co-founder is about trusting each other.

Don’t let disagreements fester

Avoiding difficult conversations can lead to larger conflicts down the line. It’s therefore important for co-founders to establish a clear decision-making process that doesn’t lead to confusion or second guessing. While disagreements will always occur the best approach is to ensure you resolve things quickly. Just remember you’re on the same team and view disputes as an opportunity to air viewpoints, solve problems and make progress.

Opposites don’t always attract

People often think co-founders have to be polar opposites to each other to be successful. However, when it comes to running a business with someone else it’s more important to have shared values, a similar work ethic and be comfortable in each other’s company for long periods of time. But whoever you choose to work with it’s also important to respect each other’s different skill sets, personalities and approach to the business.

Communication is everything

I’ve been a co-founder for longer than I’ve been married, so I can say this with some confidence: a good founder relationship is like marriage, in that its success depends largely on good communication. Sometimes this will involve reassessing the goals of the business or adjusting your respective roles. It’s therefore important to remember this is a partnership and to keep lines of communication open.

Coping with change

This one is arguably the most important for any entrepreneur to learn. Your company will evolve and grow, your personal priorities will change and so will the priorities of the people around you. You have to recognise this, understand it and ultimately accept it. Because ultimately, people will one day want to move on and that goes for co-founders as well. Should this happen, there’s no point taking it personally. For the sake of the business it’s important to let leavers depart on the very best of terms, without disrupting or compromising the business.

Often, the biggest bond that keeps co-founders together over the long term comes from their shared experiences, especially over how they’ve recovered from the challenges they faced. Learning to put setbacks behind you and keep moving forward are essential ingredients for any company and could prove inspirational as the business grows. 


Chris Hulatt
Chris Hulatt

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