Finding the right business partner is nearly impossible. Much like marriage you are legally making a commitment to a person and much like marriage it’s statistically likely you’ll split up. This is probably a big reason you hear venture capitalists say they invest in people first, ideas second.
Retsly isn’t my first love story. My last startup ended in heartbreak but luckily I learned a lot of lessons. That’s when I met Kyle Campbell, through online dating (oDesk).
We took things slow and worked together for over two years before meeting in real life. I knew his quirks, his habits, and most importantly how to push his buttons. After a couple hundred Skype sessions our current business, Retsly, was starting to blossom. We raised some money, had a product, and customers wanted it. That’s when we had to make a commitment. I moved to Canada and signed the dotted line. We’re official.
Even though I learned my fair share of lessons the first time around we had some growing pains. I believe there are some super simple rules that if followed will lead to a healthy co-founder relationship.
1. ROLES: This seems super obvious but it isn’t. I know more companies than I care to mention who have major problems because they haven’t defined their roles.
Kyle is the technical co-founder and I am the business guy. So he does the coding and I sell stuff, right? Wrong. When biz dev starts talking to customers his opinion about how the product is built evolves and when the tech guy is building product his opinion on how it should be sold evolves. Write this shit down, say it out loud, video tape the conversation—do whatever you need to do so it’s a clear as day.
2. TRUST: You can’t be a jealous or controlling co-founder. If you’re looking over their shoulder not only will you impede on your personal productivity you’ll also create major conflict. Not saying you should turn a blind eye, but keep in mind you got into business with this person because you thought they were the very best at what they do.
I think trust is one of the most difficult aspects of being a co-founder because the nature of a co-founder is you are a risk taker, you want to be in charge of your own destiny.
3. DATE NIGHT: I’m not saying you should hold hands but I wouldn’t rule it out. In a startup you’re most likely working in a small space surrounded by your founding team. Just like parents need date night away from the kids, co-founders also need time to talk in private.
At Retsly we mandate founder breakfast three times a week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It might seem excessive but for us it’s a good time to talk about our goals, continue improved communication, and remember why we decided to take this journey together.
4. RESPECT: If you don’t respect your co-founder you’re doomed. Its not about if they can they bring something to the table, it’s about if you can be proud of what they are bringing to the table.
If you’re a biz dev guy you should be able to brag about your technical better half. Be proud of the relationship—you want everyone to be jealous of your co-founder relationship.
5. THERAPY: Find someone you both trust. If you talk to enough investors and mentors this person will naturally reveal themself.
e’re lucky enough to have two people who believe enough in Retsly and us as co-founders they sacrifice their time to hear us wine and complain. All joking aside, when being completely transparent about your disagreements finding people who aren’t going to judge you is crucial.
If you thought finding the perfect co-founder was hard, maintaining that relationship is even more difficult. For me personally it hasn’t been smooth sailing, but the tough times helped us creates some pretty simple rules as detailed above. They might not work for everyone but at the very least take some time to figure out what works for you. I promise it will alleviate a ton of tension if things ever get tough, and they will.