Its that dreaded 6 month itch. Or the 12 month itch, or 18th – whatever. Its an itch all right. Your cofounder and you have been toiling away at your startup for what seems like ages now. Its not going all that well (if you compare yourself to others) and you both know it. You both get a sense that something’s missing. Or something’s not just right. Then she drops the bomb “I’m thinking of going to look for something else to do”. Or she’s going to pursue her MBA instead of working. Or worse, work at a big company with a large paycheck and some “stability”. Or his mom wants him to get married and his prospective father-in-law does not like the idea of a “startup” – “Go and get a real job at a big company, if you wish to marry my daughter”, he says.
I am going to assume you are both equal partners in all things (i.e. you both own the same amount of the company, and came up with the idea together).
So what happens next? Let me tell you the emotions I went though.
First, its okay to cry. I have personally done that a couple of times.
Then I dreamt revenge. Its okay if he leaves, I will make this so big, he’ll regret he left me in the first place. He’ll come begging back to me in 1 year asking for a job as a programmer in my company and I’ll ask him to come to interview with people who work for the people who work for me. I’ll claim we are a “big” company now and decisions to hire programmers are left to lower level people. “I only focus on strategy and vision and having lunch with my investors”, would be my email back to him.
Then I woke up.
I questioned everything. Why was I starting this company? What was the vision? Was it still valid? I started to create my own FUD. Was I a good co founder? Was the idea bad? Will customers now trust me? Will anyone else want to work with me? Is a startup even worth all the pain and suffering?
I spoke with most of the people involved with our startup – potential investors, some people we had interviewed, some customers, seeking their advice.
My first reaction was to tell them that my cofounder left for some bizarre reason. I told them he had to move out of town (which he did, but not for the reasons I mentioned) and so we decided to part (I did not want to leave Silicon Valley, you see). Most everyone saw through that.
Then all I said was “He thought this was not worth doing and it was hard on him and his family”. Which was the truth.
What I got back was surprising – “Get back on the saddle, and start to ride”. Or as some say “This too shall pass”.
Everyone pitched in with new ideas, different ways to solve the problem we initially set to solve. One prospect even gave me a consulting agreement, because he knew I was going through a rough patch.
So what happens when you co-founder decides to leave?
Lots, and then again nothing much. Many things change and most things remain the same.
If you really want to succeed with your startup, most external events will not matter. Most successful startups were born during periods of recession.
Regardless of whether you have a co-founder or not, the fundamentals remain – Is this a big pain / problem? Is there a better way that you can solve it? Are lots of people willing to give you lots of money to solve that problem? Is there a way you can take small steps towards solving that problem?
Go on, be a force of good.