Cesar Herrera is CEO and co-founder at Yuvo Healtha technology-enabled solution for administrative and managed care for community health centers.
A house is only as strong as its foundation, and so is a business. Turning an idea into a successful business is often made easier with more than one founding member, especially when the idea is complex and requires the experience and expertise of several people.
Early on in my entrepreneurial journey, I knew the specific problem I wanted to solve and that I needed the right team to solve it. I didn’t just want experts; I wanted like-minded innovators who would be passionate about the company and who would be active members of the founding team. I turned to mission-driven individuals with decades of specialized experience in their own jurisdictions, value-based contracts, and community and business development. What made us a successful team was not the combined experience in the industry, but rather the deep connection to the same mission. This is what keeps us grounded and aligned, even when we occasionally disagree.
A team of multiple co-founders offers the benefit of shared passion, diverse perspectives and extensive expertise, contributing to a more collaborative, focused team. However, the challenge is having more than one person in a leadership position. With multiple co-founders, you run the risk of getting conflicting views and different priorities. If you don’t establish roles, boundaries and expectations in the early inception phase, you can end up in heated disagreements, which can damage the relationship and the company itself.
Here are four ways I’ve found to effectively build more meaningful relationships with co-founders.
1. Clarify the unifying vision for the company.
When starting a business, it is not enough to create a service or product. You need to define the company’s long-term vision. How complex is the problem you are solving? What tools, resources and skills do you need to achieve this? What are the short and long term goals? Each of the founders must be able to put that vision first in everything they do and in every decision they make. It’s easier for founding members to navigate conflict if they have a shared goal—a shared vision of where the company will go and what it will become.
2. Designate one founder as the ultimate decision maker.
It doesn’t matter if you have two, three or more co-founders. When there is more than one founding member, you must designate one person as the final decision maker. This could be the founder who is the majority stakeholder, but it could also be the CEO or president. Some companies have co-CEOs or co-presidents, but this dynamic can create more problems for some founding teams than it solves.
No matter how clear your vision is or how good your team is, there will be disputes. Ideally, you work together to resolve them, but one person should have the authoritative voice in times of conflict. It helps if this person is also responsible for leading the team through operational challenges, industry changes and other unpredictable situations.
3. Set reasonable expectations and responsibilities.
Give each co-founder ownership of a specific aspect of the company, giving them autonomy and decision-making power. One co-founder can be the designated CEO while another owns the operational side and another manages the legal side.
The more defined the roles, the better, as ambiguity can lead to confusion and chaos. This is especially important when creating teams of more than two members. Each co-founder should have a clearly defined role with set expectations so that they know what their responsibilities are, what aspects of the company they control and which team or teams they will lead as the company grows. This requires a high level of trust that should already exist within your founding team.
4. Develop and strengthen the relationship as you grow the business.
The dynamics you build in the first half of the year will not be the same in the second or third year. In the early days of company founding, co-founders are often in constant communication, collaboration, and brainstorming all day long. This relationship should evolve as the team expands so you can avoid alienating incoming employees, especially senior leaders.
Expand your private Slack channels; invite new members to leadership meetings. You can still maintain strong relationships between your founding team, but adjust your practices, communications, and work styles so you can foster a culture of inclusiveness and empower incoming team members to make active contributions.
Even if the company changes significantly, the founding team remains the same. That’s why you want to build a cohesive, respectful and collaborative dynamic as early as possible. Most founders want to make a meaningful contribution, but no one can do everything. Recognize the value of each member and be deliberate in how you interact and communicate with one another. No matter how many decisions you disagree on (and there will be many), remember that you are all on the same team.
If co-founders are to build intentionally and purposefully, each founder must be treated with respect. Even if someone is not the ultimate decision maker, they should still be given the space and opportunity to share their opinion or point of view. Co-founders are investors. They often make sacrifices to invest financially, professionally and personally, and as a result have a shared interest in the company’s successes and failures. Recognizing and celebrating the individuality of the members of your founding team will foster a more mission-based business while also making everyone feel empowered and valued.