Discover more from Houck's Newsletter
how to build a cofounder operating system
standard advice in silicon valley is to find a cofounder who is strong in areas you're weak
this is good advice but it means that, even in a great cofounder dynamic, you're naturally going to see things differently... sometimes important things
so how do you minimize the chances of ending up as part of the 65% of startups that fail due to cofounder conflict?
my cofounder and i created what we call our cofounder operating system. it's a previously agreed-upon set of rules that guide our decisions when we disagree
think about it like a framework for how to disagree and commit
here's the process that's saved us countless hours
craft your first principles
last week i shared how first principles can help generate new ideas. they're also helpful as a foundation for a decision making framework since you'll be able to refer back to them later and hold each other accountable to what you've agreed on
while it's up to you to figure out exactly what principles work best for your team, here are a few things you need to cover:
what do you do when you simply can't reach consensus on an issue?
what can you put in place to ensure disagreements remain solution-oriented, and what happens if they don't?
when and to what extent do you involve non-founders in disagreements, if at all?
what happens after a disagreement is over?
breaking from first principles
the truth is that startups are messy and it's unlikely you'll be able to design a perfect system right away
my recommendation: build in a fail safe. acknowledge the fact that you may need to break from this framework at times. try to identify what those times might be but, at worst, identify what you'll do if you need to
as a best practice, commit to writing up post-mortem documents afterwards that explain why you needed to break from your system. then, discuss it live with your cofounder(s) and try to identify changes to your system that would prevent similar instances in the future
in a way, that means the system doesn't really need to break after all
building the framework
there are many ways that a founding team can categorize the types of decisions they make, but a simple approach is most effective since it's easy to understand
classify your decisions, identifying a few examples relevant to your startup for each, based on whether they:
require collaboration or can be made individually
are one-way doors or two-way doors
anything more complex than that risks being hard to enforce in the long run
collaborative vs solo
some decisions have high impact on the entire business. making these yourself would, at best, alienate your cofounders
other decisions are focused on an area of the business that you are responsible for. looping in your cofounders to debate them may actually slow things down in these cases
exact examples will vary based on how you and your cofounder(s) choose to split up responsibilities, but all founders i talk to consider the following to require collaboration:
one-way door vs two-way door
a one-way door is a decision that it is irreversible. once you walk through it, you can't walk back
you can experiment with solutions with two-way doors but should always be thoughtful and take time to fully understand one-way doors before jumping through them
you and your cofounders should confirm you're on the same page about what what one-way and two-way doors for your business are
once you've aligned on a framework and come up with some example decisions of each type, it's time to determine what your process is for implementing the framework
there's no right answer here, as every startup operates differently based on the working styles of the founders, but i highly recommend having:
an recurring time reserved to regularly discuss collaborative decisions
criteria for feeling good about walking through one-way doors
a doc to keep track of collaborative and one-way decision, with listed reasons (and any objections)
all of this will make any later disagreements easier down the road
i'm hosting office hours on tuesday at 4pm est! you can register here. spots are limited
launch house is my community of 700+ founders, investors, and other builders. we host events, help with fundraising, and much more. apply to join here!
want to get a copy of my cofounder OS template? let me know if i should make it available!