4 Tips to Avoid Co-Founder Conflict

Student entrepreneur Eric Muli on why it's important to be honest with your business partners and to quickly get over disagreements.

learn more about Eric Muli

By Eric Muli


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you think you'll be able to execute your big idea alone, you're dreaming.

As venture capitalists place an increasing emphasis on whom you bring along for the ride, having a trustworthy, reliable team in tow is downright vital these days. It's been my experience that some VCs will even place greater import on your teammates than on your overall start-up idea.

So making sure you all get along is paramount. The problem is, college students who are all just as eager, overzealous and ambitious as you will eventually clash -- especially if everyone has different visions for the company.

Related: Not a Superhero Entrepreneur? You'll Still Need a Sidekick

Though it can be difficult to keep the peace, you should try. With my team, we welcome constructive criticism and disagreements -- with the key word being "constructive." I believe that constructive disagreements reduce incompetency, as well as enhance both accountability and productivity. We also don't sugarcoat things. If you're wrong or you messed up, someone will tell you -- constructively, of course.

Every startup and team dynamic will be different, but there are a few basics that would likely translate at most workplaces. Here are four tips to help you avoid severe conflict with your co-founders.

1. Trust, trust, trust. If you don't have faith in someone, don't bother working with him or her. You need to be able to trust that your co-founder has the best interest of your company at heart and is just as committed as you are to the venture. It's indeed this trust that will prove to be the difference between constructive criticism and negative conflict.

2. Don't be too quick to pass judgment. Mistakes happen. If you genuinely trust your partner, you should avoid jumping to conclusions before hearing his side of the story. Many companies have crumbled due to misunderstandings that could have otherwise been avoided if people just waited for more information. So, when push comes to shove, don't. Instead, give your co-founders the benefit of the doubt.

Related: Business Partners: 5 Tips for Finding the Ying to Your Yang

3. Keep it clean. The younger you are, the harder this may be for you. However, using leverage that you have on your co-founder to further infuriate him in light of a disagreement only makes things worse. Keep your business and everything else completely separated and professional. Diluting your argument with non-business related issues only trivializes the gravity of the disagreement and serves as a catalyst to conflict.

4. Make up quickly. Tension between co-founders hurts the business. After a fight, remember the journey is still long and tough. You need each other, so make up sooner rather than later.
What are your tips for keeping the peace with your business partners? Share them in the comments section below.

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Eric Muli

Eric Muli is a senior at Babson College majoring in Economics and Marketing. As a Kenyan entrepreneur, Muli has developed a strong passion for community development and impact investing and participates in a variety of community uplifting projects in both Kenya and the United States. He is currently the president of Africa's first rating and review platform, Zabamba. He is hoping to launch a similar platform for college students in the United States.

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