My colleague Chryslynn and I often get asked “So how did you two meet?” At first we used to find it funny – we are not a couple, we are co-founders!
As time went on and we crossed one milestone after the other and grew a team together, we realised that it is after all a relationship that is not too far from a marriage in some ways.
This past year we have been through tremendous challenges growing a business, doing well so we can do right by our employees – all the time being understanding towards challenges of others and being empathetic in every communication no matter how hard the day has been.
Resonant leadership it is called! Other fancy phrase – leadership in time of VUCA (vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity). But when you are vulnerable yourself, when you are burning out with overwork, how do you consciously practice resonant leadership?
First – you have to want to do it. You have to put more thought into keeping the relationship (and every other) going which in-turn will build a strong core-team and motivate them to do their best.
So what is the secret sauce to having the perfect co-founder?
- Have each other’s back – No matter how tough the situation or how badly needed is that one client account, if this is something that might not be a good working experience for your team or your co-founder it’s ok to walk away. What you will gain in return is trust. Trust is that magic something that sets the ground for a strong relationship. The rest of the team also sees it and learns to trust you to lead them through the tough times and stand by you.
- Just like parenting, always have an united front while working with the rest of the team – When the child cries and says dad’s making her redo the story-writing activity (she may have taken a few short-cuts but “isn’t it tough studying from-home?”) your heart does melt a little. But stay strong, trust that the other person knows what they are doing. Have a separate conversation if need be, but with the team it’s important they see you as a cohesive pair which compliments each other in skills but agrees when it comes to taking tough decisions. It is also another way to show appreciation for the other person’s ability to deal with difficult situations.
- Be ok with disagreeing – When you and your co-founder come from different academic backgrounds, there are bound to be disagreements the way you visualise the product and interpret the research. The key is to give up ego and not get into the cycle of needing to be right. It’s absolutely ok to disagree and use the disagreement to come up with a better product. Just know when to stop the exchange and say “ok this sounds good, let’s do it!”
- But agree on values – We joke that one of our core values is ‘being on time’! It might seem to be a simple value to put down on paper, but we have always felt that one way to come out as the most efficient company is to show up for every client meeting on time, well prepared. One way to build a no ego team is to show up for every internal meeting on the hour, it values everyone’s time and effort. Whatever your core values might be – being non-discriminatory, being authentic or being frugal – agree on it, put it down on paper. The next generation will learn from it.
- It helps to be friends – Here is one person you will be spending the most amount of time with right after (or even sometimes more than) your immediate family. There will be times you two will have to finish a deck late at night after landing at some obscure airport, sitting on a rickety bench, munching on cold samosas. If you don’t cherish these experiences, the long days of hard work, those innumerable proposals, those tough rejections will make the journey quite a bit harder.
Over the years whenever I have heard stories about co-founders not working out or women founders having a tough time bringing on board a co-founder, I realised the reason behind the question. It’s difficult to find the right person to come up with an idea and work together to see it to success.
They are not just asking “How did you two meet?” they are looking at the chemistry and saying “How did you two make it work?”