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A proven framework to talk about personal objectives with your co-founders

So you're going into a new business with some other people? Congratulations! You'll never look back.

In this post, we'll explore why you're actually going into business. Not the product, or the service, or the market opportunity - but the personal motivation to start the business.... and how you can start aligning your own motivations with those of your co-founders.

A lot of people get started on their new venture due to one or more of the following:

  1. they hate what they're doing now or can see they can do it much better themselves; 
  2. they have a great idea which they can't develop in their current position or want to exploit themselves;
  3. they want/ need a change of lifestyle or just to work with people they want to;

But, whilst one or more of these might be enough to propel you to make the leap into your new business, some weeks or months down the line, you're likely to find yourself wondering if you're sitting round the table with the right people. Whilst this could be due to operational factors (like lack of clarity on roles), it can also be because you start to realise that you went into the business in the first place for different reasons.

Most small business co-founders just don't talk about whether they are seeking the same things personally from a business venture. It is all too easy to bury the debate under "strategy" discussion, product/service development or business plans, but don't!

A simple framework for discussing personal objectives

Here's what we did in our consulting biz:-

  1. brain-stormed out the theoretical objectives (see the list below)
  2. rated how important they were to us as individuals
  3. sat in a room and banged our heads together over the results, focusing on areas where there were major differences between us. In our case, there was a huge debate about how we traded off the balance between financial security, work/life balance and doing the types of work we wanted to. 
  4. fired one of our team (only joking)
  5. rewrote some elements of our business strategy. In particular, we revisited the evangalistic nature of our original vision for the business (re-inventing the consulting industry - ahem, we were young) and translated it into a business model that worked for us all.

McKinsey it isn't. But this was a half-day or so of effort with an extremely high return in the long-term. We also repeated it periodically (especially when people joined) and added some dimensions - for example, speed of progress versus enjoyment in getting there. 

Some amongst you will have noticed that this is an exercise that might even happen before the decision to go into a start-up together. That could work - although potentially discussing differences in outlook, the process has actually been overwhelming positive each time I've been through it. I suspect this is because it is putting a voice to unspoken concerns - differences recognised and addressed are less likely to trip you up. And, ultimately, you do need a mix of people, skills and even personal objectives to create a successful business with balance. 

If you give it a try, I'd be delighted to hear the results!

'Phil

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The list of points we debated (at the consulting firm, at PYXI, and everywhere else we've been!) :

  • Financial security / lower risk
  • Financial rewards (income over next 3-5 years)
  • Equity growth (over 5-10 years)
  • Build something of substance (legacy)
  • Variety of work
  • Control of lifestyle
  • Challenge & motivation
  • Job satisfaction
  • Opportunity to develop career
  • Opportunity to manage people
  • Creating employment
  • Changing the industry
  • Chance to innovate


Published: 25-04-14 by Phil Baxter

start-ups, aligning objectives with co-founders, why can't we all just get along, pyxi