Why do founders split? Performance and Execution

Both A & V met at their company cafeteria a few months before they decided to work together and start their venture. A was a front-end developer and V was a SEO and web analytics consultant. They both worked at the large company separately for 3+ years but did not have the chance to work together at all.

They were both in different teams and their paths did not cross very much. While standing in the cafeteria line, they got chatting about a weekend event and found they had several common interests and similar aspirations.

They decided to spend the next few months, talking about various ideas they had, mostly around starting a new venture in the eCommerce space. Neither had much experience in ecommerce, but they figured they would be able to add an operations person later.

4 months after their meetings they chose to build a online platform (one that held no inventory, but sold multiple products) for computer and mobile accessories of all kinds.

A, built the first version with some help from another friend who was the backend expert who offered some time in exchange for coming on board full-time if the venture got funding.

V focused his efforts on talking to suppliers and also helping A on some of the SEO work. Besides setting up their social media profiles, he also spent time taking to courier, payments and logistics partners to setup relationships.

3 months after starting they did a launch with friends and family. Response was good (relatively speaking), with 3 orders in the first day and over 5 in the next week.

I met them when V sent me their plan and asked for a meeting to discuss their seed funding requirements.

Given that I have had a poor track record with eCommerce companies and I dont like investing in them I declined the meeting.

A few months later, I met V at a startup event, when he mentioned that they both had split. He mentioned that the site kept going down and A was a good front-end engineer but not a strong developer overall, he said that they both had decided to shut down their venture.

I have not met A, but did check out his work and website. While I would not call his work legendary, it was not too shabby either.

The second biggest reason why founders split besides having differing vision is they both dont believe the other person is performing or executing as well as they are.

Rarely do they look in the mirror to see their own shortcomings.

There have been 2 other cases where I saw this similar situation. One person is either not executing at all – for various reasons or a deliverable or two is missed and friction sets in.

In one case a founder had a new born child within a month of the venture getting off the ground and had to spend a lot more time at home, which made the co-founder irritated and angry. They split and eventually closed the company.

I was surprised that they did the venture together knowing that one of them was going to have a baby.

When a pattern of execution and delivery on commitments is not set, then friction sets in very easily.

Its very hard to figure out if someone is executing well based on their “resume”. Most resumes are inflated (I am guilty as well) to “sell” and “position” the candidate in the best light. Even if they have worked at a position where its fairly easy to determine if they deliver and execute or not, it is mighty difficult to discern whether they were good because of the system built around them or because their manager extracted the best from them.

The only way to determine that is working together.

What takeaway do I have from this second reason for founder’s splitting?

I prefer to fund teams that have worked together in their new venture for more than 6 months. That’s an arbitrary number no doubt, but I dont have an alternative.

Teams which have worked together before, need to be working together again before I am sure that they know how to work with each other in a new environment without the support system they had before. There are exceptions, but they are rare.

I am hoping again that this is a demand and supply issue that resolves itself in a few years. Right not there are too many opportunities (thanks to Angel List) for good companies with high performance teams that have worked together for a while for me to even consider teams that have relatively younger working histories.

5 thoughts on “Why do founders split? Performance and Execution”

  1. One more aspect, I felt in my case is when an opportunity arises for an individual to work in a setup without much governance or guidelines, people tend to work with their very own EQ & priorities. This derails the central focus of delivering to objectives. All the values of working in a organization will be taken over by prejudice.

  2. To be honest, given that you need revenue and traction before you fund, it is very likely that the team is already together for six months 🙂 Nothing wrong with that, of course, it’s your choice of what you want to fund; a rule of thumb is often used to discard an opportunity that isn’t interesting enough, and when there is an exceptional opportunity that doesn’t fit, you will always know when to break the rules.

    Like most relationships, the first few months are critical, and then it’s about what happens after five or six years. The breaking point is contempt – when your differences with a partner turn into a disregard for his skill, it becomes very difficult to continue. In this context, it is usually teams with strong leaders – that is, where one person is an accepted and natural “head”, that teams tend to overcome such contempt-based zombiehood.

    The other thing about performance and execution is – sometimes you’re the pigeon, sometimes you’re the statue. Partners tend to not accept that, but it’s how life is, and one needs to sometimes just sit back and take up the slack and believe the favour will be returned. Far too many times, people carry that favour baggage for way longer than healthy.

  3. You are right about breaking rules for exceptional opportunities. I have funded along with Pallav and Abhishek one company with 8 developers and a kick ass founder, who after 1.5 years still has no revenue or traction.

  4. Very important breaking reason:

    “they both dont believe the other person is performing or executing as well as they are.”

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