But co-founding a business brings with it a whole host of responsibilities that can put the most tried-and-tested friendships under pressure. With many partnerships hinging on complementary skill sets, founders may have opposing approaches to problem-solving, increasing the risk of potential conflict.
Why business partners clash
Spending extended periods of time together is necessary and unavoidable when starting a business. And unless your co-founder is superhuman, it’s likely that little things they do will start to rile you.
“Being together constantly can be challenging,” says Susannah Jones, who co-founded Butchers salon in Hackney with Katie Knox, a friend and former colleague. “We know everything about each other and I know the way I breathe heavily when stressed can irritate Katie. I won’t reveal what annoys me about her.”
The likelihood of conflict increases after the first six months, when the adrenaline rush is over and the day-to-day reality of working together hits, says Christina Lattimer, leadership coach, consultant and founder of the People Development Network. In extreme cases, this can cause daily power struggles if co-founders have opposing personalities.
Tushar Agarwal, co-founder of Hubble, an online marketplace for London office space, met his business partner Tom Watson through Entrepreneur First, a pre-seed investment programme. Agarwal sought someone with complementary skills, but their different personalities mean they disagree daily over design and copy writing.
“I want everything to be perfect and nuanced before it’s seen by the world, however long it takes. Whereas Tom believes in solving the problem with a quick and dirty solution as soon as possible.”
Conflict can also arise over money when both partners have access to bank accounts, says Mandy Fitzmaurice, managing director of Purple HR. “I’ve heard stories about one clearing out the account and doing a runner or racking up debt without telling the other.”
What’s wrong with a little discord?
While not all clashes are detrimental, if they persist they can have a disastrous impact on a business’s success, says Lattimer. “Whatever the energy inside the partnership, it will inevitably seep out to customers and employees.”
Conflict can also damage personal productivity. “It’s impossible to operate effectively if you’re at loggerheads with each other,” says Fitzmaurice. “If left unresolved, disagreements can lead to terrible disputes, dishonesty and lawyers.”
How to reduce the risk of conflict
It’s important not to take criticism personally, and to settle disagreements through feedback from an external source. “Put it to the jury,” says Pip Black, co-founder of Frame fitness studios. “We have passionate staff and customers so if we need help making a call on something or want a sounding board, we ask them.”
Agarwal and his co-founder settle most disagreements with data. When they clashed over how important the “about” page was on their website, they collected data over two weeks to see how many people visited it.
Compromise can work if your disagreements aren’t settled easily with numbers. Missy Flynn and her two co-founders are equally opinionated but they have avoided arguments about their business, Rita’s bar and restaurant in Hackney. “Rita’s was always meant to be a sum of its parts and everything – the decor, the food, the drink, the music and our ethos has a bit of all of us in it.”
Black and her business partner Joan Murphy couldn’t agree on a name for their fitness studio – she wanted to call it Shake Studios while Murphy preferred Gym and Tonic, so they went back to the drawing board and Frame was a happy compromise.
To ensure your relationship doesn’t revolve around your business, make an effort to socialise together outside of work. Jones and Knox of Butchers salon schedule regular “date nights” when they’re feeling stressed.
“It sounds grown up but our last one ended with us climbing off a boat pissed at 7am,” says Knox. “Date nights remind us that we’re friends, not just business partners.”
For the team at Rita’s, it’s important to get out of the restaurant from time to time. “Sometimes you forget what you used to do when you were just friends without a business. Take a walk, drink a beer, or a coffee, cook dinner and watch movies. Anything.”
If you do find yourself in a blazing row with your co-founder, take a breather and move on as quickly as possible. “The longer the problem continues, the bigger the issue grows,” says Lattimer.
When Lucy Greene and Pandora Lennard, co-founders of modelling agency Anti-Agency, argue, “the eruption will end with the right answer and we just forget the argument ever happened and move on,” says Greene.
Lennard adds: “We both have very fiery tempers so arguments tend to burn out as fast as they flare up. We’re like siblings – we bicker but always make up with hugs.”
And while it’s easy to fixate on disagreements, congratulate yourselves when you work well together, advises Lattimer, and remind yourselves why you wanted to do it in the first place.
Agarwal recommends that entrepreneurs have a trial phase of working together to discover key points of disagreement and personality clashes before committing to anything. “Work on a few small, intense projects to test what it would be like when you’re both stressed in a high-pressure environment.”
And pick your co-founders wisely. Make sure they’re reliable and dedicated, says Eamon Jubbawy, co-founder of background-checking company Onfido: “Are they the type of person who would get out of bed at 3am to help you fix a bug or prepare a client deck? In the early days of a company, those moments define success or failure.”
Once you’ve established a partnership, set clear boundaries. Having more distinct roles from the beginning would have saved Frame’s co-founders a lot of time, says Black; and Flynn would introduce a “no work texts after 10pm” rule with her Rita’s co-founders.
It’s a full-on relationship, adds Flynn, and it won’t be perfect. You might not like each other every day but remember to look after each other – you’re friends after all.
Disclaimer :- Following article come from theguardian