Being a Parent
Today I had a disagreement with my partner on how to raise our child. We had differing opinions on what we thought was the best “approach” and championed strongly for each of our beliefs. The conversation had times of frustration, moments of confusion and doubt, and brief bouts of awkward silence. Fortunately, our discussion ended respectfully, leaving us each with a better understanding of our common grounds and a greater appreciation for the other’s passion.
The partner is my co-founder and the child is our startup.
I’ve probably heard/read 100+ times that having a co-founder is like being in a marriage, accompanied by all the ups, downs, fighting and growing. But after one year into my first company, I’ve never felt that analogy. Maybe it’s a subconscious desire to be a father, or maybe I’m just lucky, but I prefer to compare the co-founder relationship to parenting over a marriage, and here is why:
When you start a company, you are giving birth to an idea. It’s not about yourself, it is about the realization of that idea. If there are multiple founders, you have to identify the right person(s), create the business out of thin air, feed, it, nurture it, help it grow, and then hopefully one day it becomes big enough to take care of itself, and maybe even you. You want the child to be good and kind, to be something you are proud of, to create a legacy that can be traced back to the parents who molded and shaped it. And by all means necessary, you want to avoid watching your child fade away and die.
When my partners and I have our moments of disagreement or celebration, I’ve realized it’s not as much about each of us as it is about our company… and I think that is an especially important thing to remember during the times of conflict.
In marriages and relationships, conflicts can have a personal side and often involve “right” vs “wrong”. For founders, conflicts over company focus or strategy are less about being right and more about which option is the best. That is such an important distinction — both parties want the same outcome, they just have different suggestions for how to arrive there. Marriages don’t always work that way.
When this “parenting” realization struck me in the middle of our tense conversation, I felt a sense of calm and relief. I stopped feeling like the discussion was about my way vs his way and began to appreciate our shared sense of protection and involvement. I realized I’d rather be working with someone with a different opinion than me but who is as passionate as I am, rather than with someone who agrees with me but doesn’t really give a shit.
My co-founders and I all love our company; it is our baby and our blood. And there are definitely times where our relationship/communication has similarities to a “marriage”. But at the end of the day, it’s about more than just the three of us being happy together. Our true goal is to ensure that our tiny little startup will grow, thrive, and prosper.
Thanks to Morgan Hamel and Mira Dorrance-Bird for reading a draft of this.