Counseling for tech co-founders — it’s a thing

In this high-pressure cauldron of bubbling innovation and lofty valuations we call Silicon Valley, there will be misunderstandings and bickering.

Especially among couples.

And, just as bad, among startup partners.

Think about it: The two of you drop of out of Stanford Graduate School of Business to unleash your brilliant tech idea on the world. You rent a garage (classic move), add some funky furniture, and soon hire a small staff of hackers and design-types with poor hygiene habits and strained social skills. Things are going fine – until they’re not. Creative differences arise. The money thing gets weird. And before long, you and your dream startup-partner are barely speaking to one another.

Welcome to the latest First World Problem, Silicon Valley-style, as eloquently described by my former colleague April Dembosky, writing for NPR.org:

Relationship problems between co-founders are among the biggest reasons companies don’t make it. Increasingly in Silicon Valley, business partners are looking for help before things go downhill — they’re signing up for couples counseling.

“It felt like a marriage,” Jon Chintanaroad says of his business partnership with his friend, Mike Prestano. They launched a tech recruiting startup, Aspire Recruiting, in 2013.

“My joke was, during the day, Mike was my wife No. 1, and my girlfriend was my wife No. 2,” Chintanaroad says. “I would see her at night, and I see him all day.”

Not a very funny joke if you’re caught in that tangled web.

 

The two were friends for four years before they went into business together. Chintanaroad says their work styles really complemented one another.

“I’m very transactional-based,” Chintanaroad says. “I’m kind of a Type-A personality — I just want to get it done, whereas Mike will listen to their whole life story and really cultivate that relationship. When we had both, we started to win over new clients and things went from there.”

The business took off right away, and the money came rolling in. But a year into it, they hit some rough patches. They missed some key customer acquisitions. Revenues dipped.

You see where this is going, right? More fighting over money and who’s pulling his weight and who isn’t. Pretty soon, the very startup you both started up is in danger of coming to a sudden stop.

They decided to try couples counseling — though most therapists who work with co-founders call it “partnership coaching.”

It’s something more and more startup founders are doing. Jonathan Horowitz is a psychologist with offices in San Francisco and San Mateo. He says the number of requests he gets for co-founder counseling has doubled in the last year. A lot of times, people call when things have already gotten really ugly.

“The company’s dead, something went horribly wrong in the relationship, and they’re picking up the pieces afterwards,” Horowitz says.

Most of the time, it’s usually lawyers who get called in to mediate heated disputes or to force one of the founders out of the company. Or to help the partners declare bankruptcy, if the business failed.

“It’s good to do this work while it’s actually unfolding in the organizations,” Horowitz says, “and set these things right before they go horribly wrong.”

 

Credit: Thinkstock

 

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