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Coach Soch |  The co-founders and their conflicts

To question is to think. To think is to introspect. To introspect is to seek. To seek is to be aware. Being aware is when the journey begins.

Co-founder bickering and squabbling isn’t just what current startups have. This is a historically old problem.

Put two or more humans together, and there would be differences. Unless these differences are sorted out in a way that is fair to all, it becomes a larger and worrisome problem. Almost all startup founders have this experience.

The biggest difference between normal CEO conflict and co-founder conflict is this: Startups consume so much energy, passion, and emotions from founders. This attachment also creates a feeling of deep belonging around the company and the ideas they have and defend, almost violently.

Healthy debate around differences is good for business growth and for allowing ideas to be shared without fear of reprimand. Yet many companies end up in bad blood.

More than once, it’s simple ego that hurts the business. Until there is success in the platform, no one cares about the differences. Too much success, beyond anticipated levels, or too little success brings out the worst in many individuals. As they say, “success covers many sins”.

Trust, the only solution

The co-founders must be able to trust each other. They must be able to share their differences well. The co-founders must be familiar with each other’s motivation while having a common value system.

Questions they might ask themselves regularly:

What is the motivation for starting this business?

Is it wealth or more wealth?

Is it a social status?

Is it the media recognition and the new status of the industry?

Is it to change the world?

Are you on the right path?

What is your life missing now?

Successful startup founders are generally not afraid to confront, pose, or embrace conflict. They are open to discussion and debate about how the business should be run. Yet they know when to close those arguments, sometimes agreeing with their co-founder’s domain expertise. The practically shrewd founders have an open mind to hear the viewpoints around the coin, while also valuing domain expertise and data.

Conflict Resolution Ideas

1. Don’t take any difference personally. After all, put yourself in their shoes to understand their point of view.

2. You have your co-founders and other leaders simply for their expertise and skills in the field. By avoiding them or these expertises, you are doing yourself a disservice.

3. Once a decision is made, bury your differences. Don’t discuss the other options left on the table. Never say, “I told you so!”

4. Never let a difference of opinion hang dry or loose. Sit down with the people involved and talk openly about these differences. The sooner you close the gap, the better the differences due. Otherwise, it would one day become a full-scale conflict.

5. When discussing differences, you should behave like another individual and not like the founder. Never, ever, throw your weight as a founder.

6. Keep in mind that the overall goal of resolving a dispute is for the greater benefit of the organization. Without adventure, who are you?

External advice

If the differences or conflicts have become so cold that you need help, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Trying to get your board members or private investors to solve your problems is a contradictory idea. They have different roles to fulfill. The manager will want to deal with shareholder rights, while private investors will want to maximize investment results.

If you are bringing in someone who is trusted by all parties involved or someone who is a paid professional advisor (with no other vested interest in the outcome of this conflict), then talk openly about your conflict. This is where successful founders have brought in coaches/mentors to solve their problems, quickly and quietly.

Conflicts can become such a negative emotion that they drain your energy to run the business. After all, as a founder, it’s the health of your business that matters. Just put your ego aside when it comes to conflict resolution.

– The author, Srinath Sridharan is a Business advisor and independent market commentator. For other articles in the Coach Soch series, click here.


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