Around 65% of high-potential start-ups fail due to co-founder conflict. However, these conflicts can easily be prevented if entrepreneurs arm themselves with a few simple tools.
“Early stage founders are often unaware of what topics, interactions or decisions could lead to potential problems in the start-up cycle,” explains Naëtt Atkinson, an internationally accredited mediator and facilitator. “They don’t want to upset their co-founder and risk derailing their business. This is even more apparent in start-ups that include family and friends.
“Founders often lack confidence to address issues if there is a power, skill or financial imbalance.”
She suggests four tips to end conflict before it starts to derail your focus on your business:
Choose your (business) partner carefully
A business relationship is much like a marriage, and if you pair yourself with the wrong person, it could get messy and fall apart when the going gets tough. Even more so when you have little sleep and even less money!
Be selective when choosing a partner and make sure you share the same values and passion for the business.
Just like in a marriage, it’s important to make sure you’re both sharing the load. While this may be washing dishes at home, in a business relationship it’s important to ensure your equity ratio reflects the relationship – is a difference in number of shares justified, are you both taking the same risk and what is expected from each other?
Set the course
While you are verbalising your expectations of each other, it is important to set goals together and assign roles. Having roles and responsibilities set out at the start of your partnership will go a long way to preventing conflict.
It’s important to check in regularly that you and your partners are on the same page. Regular check-ins will ensure your intentions match up, and that you are both working towards the same goals.
If an issue arises, address it immediately. Postponing a discussion on shirking responsibilities will increase resentment and will only allow for it to escalate.
The best way to prevent, or resolve conflict is to talk about it. Unspoken and unfulfilled needs are often a source of conflict, so speak up about what you need from your business partners.
If you’re feeling dissatisfied, check with yourself what kind of needs you have, why you don’t think these are being met and communicate these to your partner. Remember, your co-founders also have needs. If your needs clash, focus on the needs of the business.
Think about the “what if…”
It’s also important to talk about and plan for the things that haven’t happened yet. How are you going to plan for scaling? What if one of the partners becomes incapable of work or dies? What do you do if one of you want to exit sooner, or move to a different country? What is the impact on the business? How do you want to handle these situations?
Having the answers to questions like this will help you feel prepared for any eventuality, even if they’re not relevant. You can always change the plan but it is much easier to discuss this when everyone is calm.
Having a plan in place is a bit like a prenuptial contract, you don’t need it in the good times, but you are very happy about it when the bad times come around.
“Good teams talk and if they struggle to, they get help. They trust, they support and are supported, they value the same things, they have the same destination in mind and agree on what is in the best interest of the business,” says Atkinson.