Tips for Cofounder Success // Part I: Know Thyselves

So you’ve started a new business, you have an incredible idea that will (hopefully) make millions, you have a product that everyone needs NOW, you’ve solved a problem that will totally change the world as we know it. You’ve got meetings set up with a bunch of VC’s, you’re fluent in all the essential tech linguistics and cultural nuances. You’re fully caught up on the most recent episodes of Silicon Valley. You have an incredible friend/partner/random person you met at a tech meet-up event who totally gets you and your vision to embark on this journey with as your co-founder. You’re all set.

…Or are you?

You probably know this by now, but the #1 reason why businesses fail is related to co-founder conflict. That’s science. So what can you do about it? How can you prevent unanticipated conflict and miscommunication? How can you ensure a smooth and enduring relationship that can weather the inevitable ups and downs of the startup life? That’s a complicated question, with an answer that generally takes at least a few in-depth and personal discussions with a mentor, therapist, or other trusted advisor to discern. But for now, a few tips to get you started.

Tip #1: Know Thyselves.

The first step towards great communication is actually knowing what it is you want to communicate. Sounds simple, but it’s actually a stumbling block many people encounter throughout their relationships and conversations. You somehow end up discussing an issue without truly understanding your own beliefs and convictions, let alone the source and meaning behind those beliefs. This can lead to discussions and arguments that are focused on winning rather than on authentically expressing and listening and reaching meaningful consensus.

In the big picture, this step looks like taking the time to examine your own visions, goals, values, and dreams for your company. Writing it out. Talking it out with friends and loved ones. This way, you and your cofounder will be more prepared to discuss with one another where each of you is coming from, so as to hopefully come to a clear understanding and consensus on where the two of you meet in your visions and goals, and potentially where you might differ as well. Those differences? Those will be the sources of your inevitable — yes, inevitable — conflicts down the road. Better to know them in advance than to get blindsided by them later on when you’re already cruising at 80mph.

A more thorough — and effective — version of this is known as “Radical Self-Inquiry” or RSI, which executive coach Jerry Colonna is known for taking founders through in his sessions. During RSI, you not only explore your deeper values and beliefs related to your company, but also your underlying personal issues, fears, and vulnerabilities — your “shadowed self”. The resulting self-awareness will help you personally and professionally, in ways you can’t possibly predict in advance. Best accomplished with the help of a licensed therapist or coach, this kind of preparatory self-exploration has been extremely valuable to many founders and cofounders. Even venture capitalists are starting to catch on to the importance of self-inquiry — basically another way to say therapy — for start-up executives, and are investing real money into it for their companies. They see the ROI’s pretty quickly, and they recognize that without taking the time to go deep, many companies will never be able to recover from problems down the line.

However you decide to go about increasing your self-awareness, and eventually your awareness of one another as cofounders, try to make it a priority early on. You’ll see results beyond what you could have imagined, and there is simply no down-side.

If you’re looking for a place to start with this process and you happen to live in the Chicago area, check out Amity Chicago for more information on Cofounder Counseling.

Coming up: Communication Basics