The three most critical moments you will face as a co-founder (Forbes)

By: Colbey Pfund August 23, 2016


When my co-founders and I came together to form our company only three months after meeting for the first time, we didn’t have a proper business plan. We didn’t go to business school, we didn’t have investors, and we didn’t have the traditional experience one would think is required to turn an idea into a thriving enterprise. But we did have each other, for better or for worse. After signing papers to form our business, we soon learned that starting a business together was much like entering into a marriage.

As we enter our third year of consecutive growth, a new manufacturing and distribution center, global sales, and a refined marketing strategy, it’s important to remember that we still have each other, and still for better or for worse. During the last several years, our partnership dynamic has evolved dramatically, often growing through a series of disagreements, key decision-making moments, wins and mistakes. These moments have produced an unspoken constitution by which we operate and grow our business together.

Focusing on role fulfilment

In the beginning, when our business was small, we were firm believers in the unimportance of job titles. Instead, we preferred to focus on role fulfilment. We decided to determine our roles organically by acknowledging our individual strengths and weaknesses as the business grew, and as we encountered new challenges. Each new challenge presented an opportunity for certain co-founders to step up, while other challenges presented the opportunity for a co-founder to step aside. We quickly learned to never let personalities interfere with guiding principles of the business. After all, my co-founders were all friends before becoming business partners. Knowing where to draw the line between our friendship and our business has always remained paramount.

Throughout my experience with several companies, I have learned that while not all of my friends will make the best business partners, my business partners can become great friends. When approaching any new venture, I recommend an honest assessment of your friendship with new partners to evaluate trust, honesty and dependability. I often find that the strongest personality traits will dictate a co-founder’s role. Using the traits listed above as an example, the most dependable partner might naturally run operations, while the most trusting co-founder may find himself overseeing the company’s finances.

The perils of inaction

When two executives disagree on a particular course of action, the fallout can be ugly. Most healthy business relationships are built on complementary opinions and perspectives, but failing to cultivate a symbiotic approach to growing your business will just have you and your partners constantly arriving at an impasse. In my experience, sometimes making the wrong decision together yields a better outcome than making no decisions at all. Mistakes can almost always be converted into learning experiences, but inaction can stifle even the most opportunistic enterprises. We learned this lesson very early on when we couldn’t agree whether or not to pull the trigger on a unique promotional opportunity at a convention. As a result, we were not logistically prepared for a better opportunity that presented itself shortly after. Even if the first event had been a complete failure, we could have used the experience to ensure our success in the next one. Always arrive at a concrete decision and course of action. Avoid stalling out of fear or “tabling” the conversation until later.

Overcoming stalemates

Opposing viewpoints are a natural and healthy aspect of any partnership. When two of us seem to arrive at a stalemate, we embrace an unorthodox, yet often pragmatic and effective approach for moving forward. We immediately reverse our positions, advocating for the other partner’s choice in the matter. We attempt to explain why the opposing decision is the right one, simultaneously finding flaws in our own perspectives and the strengths in others. For example, if I’m in favor of increasing spend in a paid media channel and my partner disagrees, I will be asked to evaluate the potential drawbacks of the campaign. By the end of the conversation, perhaps I will have discovered that our sales revenue is healthy enough for the advertising spend to be reallocated to a new hire desperately needed in operations. This type of exercise will often root out all too common scenarios where oversight is mistaken for good instincts. Ultimately, our unique personalities helped mold our roles as co-founders. Complementary skill sets can be developed organically as your business grows, but fine-tuning collaborative decision-making abilities often requires enough time and experience working together to inspire the most success in the business and in each other.