How to align with your co-founders?


If your company fail – most likely it will be because of some mis-alignements between your co-founders which you don’t identify early-on. It’s quite important to have an open conversation very early in order to make sure that things are aligned properly, and if some major discrepancy occurs to try to reconcile them. Sometimes it’s also better to fail fast if reconciliation is not possible.

Take one to two hours to answer this exercise on your own – each co-founder should answer each questions. Once everyone is ready, take the time to discuss your answers and note the points on which you don’t have alignment. 

Personal Values

Starting a company is an emotional and financial rollercoaster. Why are you doing it? What’s the intrinsic drive that’s going to power you through all the obstacles ahead?

What you might hear: “I want to make a dent in the universe.” “I want to be invited to Davos” “I want to attract more gold diggers than the 1848 Gold Rush.”

What are you ready to lose?

You might hear: “My current lifestyle as it demands $$$”. “Full control of the company if we get investors on board”

What are your personal constraints? 

What you might hear: “I have a kid, so I’m only staying in the office for eight hours a day” “I’m committing a maximum of three years to this venture, because after that I think I might need a sabbatical.”

Can you identify your missing experience/capabilities to build the company? What do you bring to the table?

You might hear: “We’re in the B2B business but have no experience in sales”. “We are building a consumer hardware product but we don’t have any hardware engineer on board”

What are your biggest fears about the venture? 

What you might hear: “That it will turn into an enterprise company.” “That my wife gets tired of our financial struggles and leaves me.” “That I don’t get enough say about product direction.”

What are the things that really tend to bother you? What are your deal breakers?

What you might hear: “Lack of progress.” “Music in the office.” “Lack of ownership/accountability.” “Not having crystal-clear goals.” “Not shipping or testing a new version of our product at least weekly.”

What would cause you to want to shut down or leave the company? 

What you might hear: “When it’s not fun anymore.”

What are your character flaws, and what are you bad at? 

What you might hear: “I tend to over-promise and under-deliver.” “I am not good at time management.” “I can be irritable.” “I’m easily distracted.” “I just can’t stand doing certain types of work, including XYZ.”

What are your character strengths, and what are you really good at?

What you might hear: “I consider my signature strengths to be love of learning, humility and integrity, and I’m really good at XYZ.”

What about working hours and working weekends? What about time off? 

What you might hear: “40-hour weeks” or “16 hours per day, including weekends.”

About Time off: What you might hear: “Five weeks per year.” “Two weeks per year.” “Nothing until the company is profitable.”

What types of people do you want, and do you not want, to work with?

What you might hear: “I only want to work with people who can X.” “I refuse to work with anyone that is Y.”

How do you expect to grow as a person from building this company and what to you hope to learn?

What you might hear: “In the short term, I want to get better at lean startup methodology.”

What support do you need from your co-founder(s)? What you might hear: “I need you to understand my financial situation and not pressure me to take risks I can’t afford.”

(How) Do you plan to support your co-founders?

What you might hear: “I think they don’t need help from me” “I can help my co-founder with leadership advices” “I can help my co-founder dealing with difficult conversations when it comes to the team”

Execution Values

What role do you see yourself in two years down the road?

What you might hear: “CEO.” “I couldn’t care less.”

Do you acknowledge that you’ll have to hire above you when the organization will be scaling faster that you can humanly do (Except CEO)?

What you might hear: “I don’t envision giving away my CTO/CFO/.. position as my ego prevents me from doing it”

What if others don’t feel this role is a good fit?

What you might hear: “Then I’m flexible.” “Honestly, then I’ll probably leave.”

How do you want us to make day-to-day decisions?

What you might hear: “I want veto right on X.” “I think I should decide everything related to Y, and I don’t care about the rest.”

How do you want us to make major decisions like firing, selling the company and raising funds?

What you might hear: “I want to vote on executive hiring/firing, parting ways with co-founder, raising funding and issuing stock options.”

What barriers are you worried about us running into? 

What you might hear: “Funding.” “Burnout.” “Product direction.”

What’s your timeframe?

What you might hear: “I’m in for 4 years, but that’s my maximum”

How do you deal with stress and how can I detect that you’re stressed?

What you might hear: « I go silent and don’t want to communicate or interact », « I generally communicate it », « I become passive-aggressive »

How do you deal with conflicts?

What you might hear: « I don’t want to deal with it and will sweep it under the table until it explodes », « I generally approach it with candor and empathy », « I get mad and put everything on the table »

Financial Values

What would be your fair market salary?

What you might hear: “I’m currently making $140,000 per year, but could probably get another $20k somewhere else.”

What’s the minimum salary you’d be willing to work for and for how long?

What you might hear: “Six months with no pay plus 18 months with $50,000 per year.”

What your maximum “tolerable” opportunity cost?

What you might hear: “$120,000, because my market salary is $100,000 post-tax, and I’m willing to work for two years at $40,000 per year. That’s the most I can afford.”

What do you think of the possible financing solutions: paying customers, venture funding, consulting, keeping our day jobs, etc.?

What you might hear: “Getting venture funding is probably a requirement for me. I don’t want to f*ck around and do random consulting just to keep the boat afloat.”

What do you think is a fair approach to splitting the founders’ pie? 

What you might hear: “Equal parts.” “Founders’ Pie Calculator.” “I don’t know; make me an offer, and let’s take it from there.”

What valuation would make you want to sell the company?

What you might hear: “$5 million.” “$1B”, “I don’t ever want to sell. Are you in it for the money?!”

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