My Public Pensieve

We need to talk about cofounders.

Building a business is really, really hard.

Some parts of it you can learn-by-doing along the way. For example sales and customer support.

Other parts, however, you have one chance to get right. With no prior experience and disastrous results if you mess up.

Finding the right cofounder(s) and building a strong, successful relationship with them is an example of this kind of challenge.

Inexperienced founders constantly underestimate how hard this is and how important it is to get right.

I’ve heard that over 20% of startups fail due to cofounder issues*. So it’s obviously a super important problem to solve… Just imagine the increase in World GDP if we could decrease the failure rate of startups by even 1%.

This is also a super difficult problem to solve though.

Some founder relationships – just like some romantic relationships – simply aren’t meant to work out despite all signs to the contrary and the best efforts of everyone involved.

Yet – again just like romantic relationships – there are some pretty simple things you can do as a founder to significantly increase the likelihood of building a successful cofounder relationship:

  • Taking the time to find and ‘test’ for the right cofounder
  • Making sure you have all (legal) bases covered in the event of difficulties
  • Working proactively on the relationship and communication constantly and from day one

None of this is particularly difficult – but it’s counterintuitive and often overlooked by founders. There are also new challenges cropping up, like the increased popularity of remote working.

Where’s the solution?

I haven’t found a good one yet. And believe me, I’ve searched.

There are bits of relevant information online, but most of it is either incomplete or just plain wrong. Cofounders in San Francisco visiting a relationship counsellor has become a more common trend. But these counsellors can only solve at most one of the three main points I talked about above.

There’s a trend amongst indie hackers to just avoid cofounders completely and stay solo. For a few people this is probably a good idea, but on balance it isn’t really a viable solution for all of us. Functioning properly, 2-3 cofounders can outperform a solo founder. And that’s before you factor in the mental toll of being a solo founder.

Perhaps the main reason this problem still exists is founders themselves.

We’re happy to share intimate details of our business mistakes, hiring mistakes and, increasingly, investor/funding mistakes. But talking about cofounder relationship difficulties is still a big taboo.

This is crazy, because pretty much every founder I know has at least one cautionary tale about a past cofounder relationship – myself included – and by not opening up we’re just making it more likely that others have to make the same mistakes we did.

What can we do about it?

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and I’m not sure what the solution is yet.

Putting together some honest, open content would definitely be a start. Perhaps coaching, templates for cofounder agreements/disputes and software/support in finding and testing potential cofounders at some point as well.

Whatever this solution ends up looking like, I’m not yet convinced there’s a viable business model attached…

I’d love to connect with founders who need this kind of support now, or who would like to help other founders avoid the mistakes they made.

If that’s you, please shoot me an email.

You can also keep up to date with whatever progress I make on this project by joining a waitlist here…

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Thanks for reading!

*I don’t have a good source for this, but anecdotally it seems plausible and perhaps even an underestimate.

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