The green-eyed monster: Co-founder jealousy

- December 10, 2013 4 MIN READ

It’s good to start a business with people whom you know very well. You have an idea of each other’s strengths and can capitalise on these. However, this same friendship could cause some problems. Because of the friendship, sensitive issues that crop up are not brought to the fore, for fear of hurting somebody. Thus, job functions may not be clearly delineated, financial issues are discussed in the hush, and little by little, animosity breeds.

This is the very reason why a number of startup businesses fail. Structures are so fluid that most of the time, many feel that one is trying to take advantage of the rest. When one of the co-owners is trying to put things in perspective, the others see it as trying to control the business. Worse, to gain the support of other co-owners, factions are created so that business directions are not streamlined to a common goal.

Jealousy has no place in a business setting. The negativity that it brings is counter-productive so that instead of trying to help grow the company, jealous co-owners harbor a myopic view of things and look only after their own interest. Questions grow into arguments and more often than not, each of the co-owners find fault in each other.

Thus, even for a startup company, everything should be in black and white: each co-owner’s responsibilities must be spelled out, the amount of capital one is to invest in the business should be documented, and even making decisions as to acquisitions and purchases should be delegated to a point person. A business, no matter how small, should be run the same way as a big company does.

How then should jealousy in the company be eliminated? The following steps, though not 100 percent fool-proof, may help lessen the resentment among co-owners of a start up businesses:

1. Set specific goals for starting up the business. Of course, the main reason people start a venture is for financial stability. But then again, to achieve this, everybody has to be clear on what their specific business would be, how much they plan to invest, and who takes responsibility for what.

2. Put everything in writing. Whatever has been agreed upon must be put in writing. Make sure that each and every entrepreneur or co-owner signs on this so that there would be no pointing fingers in the future. Document any other future movements as well.

3. Meet and discuss regularly. Startup businesses would have a lot of concerns. There is no point in sweeping the dirt under the carpet. Put everything into the fore, no matter how small the concern is. This way, not only is everyone put in the know of what is exactly happening, solutions that are acceptable to everybody are agreed upon. Do not relent on these regular meetings. If there is no concern to be discussed, this could be a venue to discuss streamlining of processes, discussion of new projects and even brainstorming for new ideas.

4. Make people aware of each of the co-owners’ responsibilities. This way, they will be able to course their concerns to the right person and solutions can be given straight away.

5. Create an open-door policy. Make communication lines within the business open to everybody, even up to the level of the President. Co-workers would be more responsive to a management that they feel is working and listening to them.

6. Never stop learning. It is not cast in stone that if you are on the top, you just cascade information downwards. It is sometimes good practice to set foot on the shop floor every once in a while to see changes being made, processes being streamlined.

7. Keep an open mind. When a co-owner discusses something with you, take this as an opportunity to see the perspectives of others. You may be running the show, but your finance man may have ideas of harnessing your unused funds for something that could increase your company’s worth.

8. Accept your limitations. You may have finished at the top of your class in college, but let’s face it, your knowledge may be good only for certain aspects of your operations. You may be a good manager, but you need your finance man, your production man, a good sales and marketing man, and maybe even someone to do public relations for you. A good combination of all these core competencies could greatly help in your business’ growth.

Most businesses started small. In fact, many startup businesses have failed but their owners picked themselves up and started over, learning from their mistakes. But the one crucial mistake that a co-owner of a business can make is to be concerned only of his own good. In the first place, you may not be able to start up your business alone and expect to be big fast. Your co-owners have their stakes too.

This is the reason why you have to plan, and set your eyes towards a common goal. And since businesses are not static, you have to be aligned with the changes that may crop up due to technology, market demand, and government regulations, among other things. Harbouring jealous thoughts could only eat up on executive time that could otherwise be spent on more productive discussion. Your ideas may seem great, but your co-owners have ideas which may merit hearing as well. Open your mind to possibilities. This is the only way you can leverage on one another’s strengths to promote your business.

A good resource is the free Hacker Co-Founder Agreement tool launched by LawPath last month. The template allows co-founders to be transparent about the terms and conditions of the partnership right from the get-go.