Startup Dirty Laundry: Conflicts That Kill Partnerships

If you have a partner, you are bound to have fights. 62% percent of all startups fail due to co-founder conflict. Look at the most common types of conflicts in a startups. Do You Recommend Any Of These Solutions?:

startup dirty laundry

When you throw together two ambitious people from different backgrounds and have them live and work in close quarters under the pressure of having little money and the constant fear of their startup failing – conflicts are bound to happen. Married couples argue 321 times a year. Although there is no statistics about co-founder fighting – the number is probably not too far off.

The first step to avoiding these conflicts is avoiding faux-cofounders. Who are they? There are a couple types.

Types of Faux Cofounders

First of all, choose the right person. Just like in dating, take your time to find the right one. There are plenty of wrong choices out there. Here are the steriotypical profiles you need to avoid.

The Lawyer. This type of co-founder tries to define every expectation you can define. He will try to put everything into an agreement. The downside of this type of co-founder is that he will worry about dividing things up before actually creating anything. What is the point of having all the equity split agreements if there is really nothing to divide in the beginning.
The Friend. This type of co-founder is probably someone you knew before working on your startup together. They are probably a really nice person who got excited about the startup. They said they loved your idea. 6 months later, after the honeymoon period of the statup was over, they lost steam and stopped working as hard. At the same time they are still thinking they have 50% of the equity.
The Genius. This type of co-founder is probably really smart. Much smarter than you even. They work hard. You probably first fell in love with that combination. But they are so brilliant they don’t even need you. They just cannot collaborate with anyone. In effect you are not working together – what is the point of having this co-founder then?
The “Marketeer”. This type co-founder hustles day and night getting clients and marketing away. That’s great, except they have no understing of the product that the other co-founder is building. When the technical co-founder tries to explain to them why the javascript is slowing down the load time they draw a black. Run the other way.
The Thinker.This type of cofounder is going to want to strategize with you a lot. They are going to have grandiose plans of revolutionizing the industry. But they got no real clue of how to get the initial 1000 users. It’s all just talk, no action. Send them back to the academia.
The Lurker. This type of co-founder always has the Job Monster website open in a tab. They have multiple Facebook accounts, that they use to market their many side projects. Their official Facebook account doesn’t say anything about them doing a startup. At any moment, and without warning, they will up and go work on something else.

Types of Conflicts

Ok, now that you found the right person – you are still going to have conflicts. Whether those conflicts are going to destroy your startup depends on how you deal with them. Now let’s look at the most common conflicts and what to do with them:

  • My idea is better!
    Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything. Stop fighting about this. Now. Try executing a bad idea – you will see that you got a lot farther than you’d think.
  • Who gets to decide what? Devide up the responsibilities. Let you co-founder decide on half of everything – it’s healthy for you to delegate responsibility. Otherwise you are going to burn out before you know it.
  • I work harder than you. Unless there is a pattern of your co-founder working less than you – calm down. Doing exactly 50% at all times is pretty hard – and it’s hard to measure. Maybe they failed to make a sale this week, but next week they are going to bring in the biggest customer.
  • Leave, or I leave!
    This one is the worst. The worst thing is not even that one of you is going to leave but that you have probably been fighting for a while before the situation got this ugly. If you care about whether this startup survives at all, solve this asap.
  • OMG, We are gonna fail…
    Almost every day in a startup can be the death day. Failure is always in the back of everyone mind anyway. So why even talk about it? If they are talking about it – stop them. Your enthusiam is your biggest asset. Don’t let you co-founder chisel it away.
  • Who gets what
    Equity vesting agreements will solve a lot of the fighting about dividing up equity. If you are just starting out, divide the equity 50/50. There is no reason to give more to the person who had the idea first. What’s the worth of an idea?
  • Who cleans up the pizza?
    This is petty. It really should never happen. But it does. All the time. Over time it builds up. Get a cleaning person. Whatever it takes to focus. Or just clean the pizza.
  • We need to strategize more
    “Nine times out of ten strategizing is just a form of procastination.” Paul Graham.. Better to do the wrong thing, than do nothing.
  • I’m out at 5 pm
    If they have a life outside the startup, let them know that you need 100% of their time. Make sure you sleep in the office, too.

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