I'm a 1st time startup co founder and CEO. My partner joined after falling in love with the idea, but since then, decision making became much more complicated, and I feel like the product gets pulled in too many opposing directions. When I do insist on my vision, we execute together beautifully. We did agree that I'll be the CEO, but it seems he has trouble settling for it. Any advice?

I've been a co-founder/partner three times. The first two times didn't go so well, mainly because of disagreements among the partner. The first co-founder relationship started out well, then deteriorated quickly, once the business started having trouble, after losing our only customer due to 9/11 fallout. The second started on shaky ground and didn't end well. This third time around, things are looking good, in part because I'm applying the lessons I learned the first two times around.

In the second venture, there were four partners, including the CEO, who I actually introduced to the venture. I was the COO. In this venture I was in the position of your partner, in that I had a hard time accepting the CEO in his position. At the very beginning I thought he was the right person for the job. Soon after he started, I got the sinking feeling that he wasn't. I tried to steer from the side, which didn't work out too well for anyone and wasn't nearly enough to get the company back on track and pointed in the right direction.

What I'm learning this time around is that differences of opinions are one thing and they're important. Fundamental differences in value systems are something else. With differences of opinion, people can come into a constructive conversation with differing viewpoints, combine them, and leave with a solution that's exponentially better than any of the individual solutions.

The conversation my not be easy, however it doesn't have to be life-draining, either. The conversations among people who have fundamental differences in value systems are the life-draining ones. No matter how hard you try, these conversations to go nowhere and you're left exhausted and with no better solution at the end of the conversation than you had when you started. Progress becomes paralyzed as a result, especially if you're trying to make a decision by consensus.

Coming back to your specific question, if you've agreed that you are the CEO, have you also discussed what that means in terms of decision making? Has your team agreed that the final decision comes from you?

If you have, I feel like it's very important for you to -

-give the other decision makers a forum to express their ideas and

-make sure they feel heard

Feeling heard means different things for different people. Talk one-on-one with your partner to see what feeling heard looks like for him/her.

Once you've established this collaborative environment and have decided and clearly communicated that you're the decision maker, stick to that strategy. It sounds like this has been working so far, don't start to second guess yourself. If your co-founder continues to have problems with this approach and it begins to feel like the difficulty is being caused by a fundamental difference in underlying values, you may want to consider finding another partner.

Always happy to discuss further on a call and good luck!

Answered 6 years ago

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