Startup Lessons: Founders Tales — The Lost Art of Keeping Your Mouth Shut

Lesson #4 from the untold stories of Appirio

This post is the fourth part in a series. The original post sets the context, provides the disclaimers, and gives a preview of all of the lessons.

In any company with four founders and a ten-year run, there are bound to be significant disagreements and interpersonal issues. I’m proud all four of us were still involved with the company and personally close through the acquisition of Appirio and hopefully for decades to come.

Each of the founders certainly have memories of particularly tense times with one another. I recall an argument so fierce with one of my co-founders, I was convinced he had just called me unethical. For me something extremely offensive and deeply personal. I went to my wife and ranted about him. She listened and then started to give other potential reasons for our exchange. Her perspective was nuanced because she had met and spent time with him many times. In fact, the four co-founders and our partners had vacationed together several times since starting the company. Apparently, his spouse had a similar conversation with him and told him to call me back and explain himself better. As a result, what could have been massive schism between us was put to rest almost immediately. We vacationed together because it was fun and our shared origination story with Appirio, but it also created a structure that supported us through difficult times.

Years earlier one of my other co-founders and I had a series of disagreements so severe that for months we didn’t speak outside of meetings or events we both attended(normally even our spouses were jealous of how often we talked). It was an incredibly tense few months, but I’m nearly certain no one inside the company (outside the four founders) ever knew.

In a world where too many post every trivial detail of their life this gave us space to work out our issues without an audience. Over time we worked through our disagreements and our relationship directly with one another — without a running analysis of the undertones of our public or social media comments or the general culture of bad reality television becoming the norm in the company. And equally important, no one in the company had to choose sides or weigh in on who was right; or be distracted from doing the far more important work of building the company.

Finding release valves for how you feel at your most upset or vulnerable is important, it just can’t become part of the company’s dialogue. This isn’t a silver bullet for every founder or executive relationship gone south — but it relieves the massive boulder of ego and outside perception from your path to reconciliation. Some things should just stay in the room where it happened.

Appirio founders and the spouses who served as our consiglieri