Co-Founder Survival: 4 Ways To Prevent Partnership Drama

Having a business partner is a lot like having a romantic partner, you can feel like the luckiest person in the world and they can make you so...

Photo: Marlo Miller, co-founder at The Prime Company; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Marlo Miller, co-founder at The Prime Company; Source: Courtesy Photo

Starting your own business is daunting, exciting, stressful, rewarding and often … incredibly time consuming.

Many people have to go through the whirlwind of emotions alone, and then there are those of us who have business partners.

Having a business partner is a lot like having a romantic partner. You can feel like the luckiest person in the world because of all the support that person provides, but they can also make you so horribly frustrated you want to scream at walls.

If you are experiencing the latter, take a deep breath, this partnership can succeed. Here are some tips to help and prevent current and future co-founder faux pas:


  1. Establish Clear Roles

    At the beginning, all founding members of a startup have to wear many hats (which is normal). However, sometimes one person finds themselves feeling like their hats outweigh everyone else’s or that someone is not pulling their weight.

    The feeling of unequal contribution can lead to bitterness and unnecessary grief. To avoid this it is important to sit down and clearly outline what each person is expected to do. Of course, helping each other when the load is heavy is fine (there is no “that is not my job” in a startup), but there will be clear expectations. If you have a business plan, operational agreement or shareholder agreement, these roles should be present in those documents.

  2. Communicate

    In an early-stage startup it is especially important to talk to your business partner(s) about all business-related happenings. Hopefully this comes as no surprise to you, but failure to do so can lead to so many problems.

    Talk to each other on a regular basis about goals, issues and general observations. Also remember: there is no room for passive aggressiveness in business, you should be clear and concise about issues that come up, which brings me to the next point.

  3. Maintain Professionalism

    No boss equals no rules, right? Wrong! There is a reason the idea of “being professional” is a workplace norm. Professionalism prevents pettiness and keeps the business environment from descending into a high school drama.

    It might just be a few people right now, but you are setting up the building blocks for your company culture, so make it a great one. Follow the obvious rules when you talk to each other: be polite, be concise, do not point fingers and most of all don’t talk down to each other.

  4. Have Fun

    You chose your co-founder for a reason. Perhaps your business partner is your best friend, romantic partner or an expert in your field? However, the majority of the time the deciding “it” factor that answers the question, “Do I want to go into business with this person” is likeability. Plain and simple.

    Although you have to be nice and professional, don’t forget to have some fun. Try setting aside some partner bonding time to just relax and do something you both enjoy. All work and no play can lead to a great deal of stress and bitterness, which is no fun for anyone.

This article has been edited and condensed.

Marlo Miller is a former public relations specialist who quit her 9-5 at an ad agency to pursue lofty entrepreneurial dreams. Together with her business partner, she founded a company that manufactures and distributes a hangover preventing supplement called Prime. She hasn’t looked back since. Connect with @theprimecompany on Twitter.


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