The quality of the relationships among co-founders is one of the most important elements of successful startups.
That’s why so many VCs and investors care not only about your pitch, your idea and your numbers but also about the interactions within your team.
They’ve seen startups fall apart time and again because of fights among founders.
Left to their own, the relationship among co-founders will deteriorate more often than not. That’s why you need to maintain and nurture them to keep them healthy, and you need to start before they shows any symptoms of illness.
Start "dating" your co-founders
At Close, our way of keeping co-founder relationships working well is a weekly founders’ dinner.
Having our weekly tradition has helped us through numerous high-pressure situations. Instead of letting stress and tension escalate into animosities, we used the heat to forge a stronger bond among us.
Even when we were just three guys working in the same room all day (eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner together), every Thursday, we’d have our founders' dinner.
We felt a bit ridiculous doing this founders' dinner sometimes, but we decided that our relationship was a top priority, and we knew that forming this habit early on was important. We made a choice to be disciplined about it, and it paid off.
Here’s how we structure our founders' dinners:
- We have a free-style conversation and talk about whatever we feel like. Whether it's business-related or personal, we share what’s going on in our lives.
- Then we talk about our current concerns: developments in our business or in our marketplace, certain people, challenges, problems, and worries. We honestly and transparently bring up everything – not just the facts but also how we feel about these things, e.g., any stress, anxieties, tension, and so on.
- Then each of us takes turns, asking the others: "Is there anything I did last week that made you feel upset or angry? Did I create any stress or negativity in your life? Was there anything I did that confused or disappointed you? How do you feel about my performance? Are you happy with the job I’m doing? Do I inspire you or disappoint you?"
The key to success of such dinners is to bring up anything that comes to your mind, no matter how small it may seem, and give everyone the opportunity to express their feelings. Don’t swipe things under the carpet.
Nothing is "too small" to communicate
We’re often tempted to think that little things don’t matter because they’re too insignificant. But they’re like seeds that first grow roots, then stems and leaves, and eventually – poisonous fruit. Five years later, you might find yourself in a fight because all these tiny little things you thought didn’t matter turned into resentment and hatred.
That’s why you should address even the littlest of issues so that you can completely resolve them before they start to fester. The founders' dinner is your safe environment to express and process any grievances you may have and work through any animosities that might be brewing below the surface.
Your co-founder relationship either grows or dies
As your company matures and grows, and the founders spend less time with each other and more time with their own teams, the founders' dinners will become the sacred space where you can still experience that original sense of intimacy and camaraderie you had when you first started out.
It’s an investment that will pay high dividends over time and help you build a foundation of trust and mutual understanding. Not only will it help you maintain your relationships, but it will also help you evolve them further. As a result, your team will become stronger with each passing year.