Co-founding a startup is like getting married. You go from spending some time together, to spending all your time together, in a small space, and sharing your finances. On top of that, creating a business is like having a baby.
One guarantee to turn a healthy relationship tumultuous is throwing in marriage and a baby. In other words, the question isn’t if you will fight; the question is: how will you fight?
Here are five steps to keep small disagreements from becoming full-fledged brawls.
1. Eyes Open: There is no such thing as a perfect partner. If you’re too similar, you’ll be annoyed by the lack of creativity. Too different, you’ll be annoyed by the disagreements. Having unrealistic expectations will ensure disappointment down the line.
Recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses from the outset and remember to value those strengths, even when the weaknesses seem glaring.
2. Set Rules: A founders’ agreement is a roadmap that sets out each founder’s expectations and outlines how you will deal with disputes. Having a plan in place when things are good will help when tempers are running hot and accusations are flying.
3. Communicate: Running a startup doesn’t allow for much downtime. When you’re not working on the product, you’re being a bookkeeper, making connections, raising money, dealing with employees; the list is endless.
The first two things that fall by the wayside are regular meals and communication (and maybe gym memberships). Setting aside a regular time to meet with your partners to air, vent and affirmatively deal with any issues may seem like a luxury; but it’s actually a necessity. Otherwise, minor annoyances have ways of building into systemic and potentially company-shaking problems.
4. Switch It Up: Sometimes your partners aren’t really the issue. Sometimes you’re just hungry and nervous and sleep-deprived and your partners just happen to be the only people in the room; so you lash out. During those times, it’s important to take a step back and give yourself a break.
Lacking sleep and eating junk food while crammed in the same room for 72 hours has somehow become part of the startup mythos. In reality, it takes a toll on you and those around you. During these times it’s important to take a break; change your routine, see your family, talk about anything but the startup, and come back refreshed.
5. Get Help: If steps 1-4 are not enough, then get an outsider’s help. It shouldn’t be anyone in your company and it probably shouldn’t be a close friend. Look to an advisor, a mentor, or an outside, trusted professional. Someone that can allow each person to voice their concerns and frustrations, and then begin the process of rebuilding the relationship.
Following these steps could make the difference between watching your company grow and seeing it crumble.