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RodinStar / Startup

Partner Relationship Management

 

Awarded the

“RodinStar” Post 

of the week!!

 

 

There are some stories that break your heart and that happened to me after reading Hardik Shah’s article End of a Chapter. It really compelled me to think of being in his place and going through the ordeal. As an Entrepreneur, I am open to failure but as a person am not open to break a friend, brother and partner away. Especially when you’ve been through the thick and thin of things for so many years. 

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I co-founded my venture 2 years back with my friend / brother from other parents Mr. Rashmirathi Tiwari. We had a strong friendship of 5 years to rely on before starting. People around us always said “we have not seen two different people being so alike in every respect”. So, we both exactly knew what we were getting into. We rocked our steady life boats, trusted each other and started off.

The 2 years’ journey has been AWESOME to say the least. We found a different kind of rapport being business partners, matched each other’s frequency while taking tough decisions and always complemented the other.

But, are we sure the same would continue through infinity? Would there be a time when things would not be as normal as they are now.

We have discussed such things and try to prepare ourselves to face such situations together, rather than against each other. Some of the things that we usually do are:

    • Understand each other’s personality traits and assume they would stay as they are
    • Complementing the limitations of other’s personality and skillsets to build a strong entity together
    • Appreciating and criticizing the other in mails, verbally or through IMs (even if we sit an inch away)
    • Adopting a culture to respond but NOT react
    • Leaving few things alone that are out of our control

Still, we realized that this is not pushing us to the limits and the actual scenarios might be drastically different than what we have faced so far.

So we decided to start ‘You are a b!tc#’ session.

Here both of us would go ‘No holds barred’ at each other, criticize each other, find faults, blame for specific mistakes. No words are off limit here. No one is allowed to take the ‘words’ seriously, but the meaning/pain of the points raised should be understood and acted upon. The objective is to vent anger (if any) and not let it accumulate.

I hope the unease (if any) below the goody-goody environment would be uncovered and we have lesser things to say to each other when the real hell breaks loose. I am not sure of the success of such a session, but would really like to hear your views on how do you handle ‘Partner Relationship Management’.

After all, it can be the 2nd most defining relationship of your life!

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26 Comments

  1. kunal…. you know when i started reading this post – my heart sank. i’m super sensitive and co-founder splitting stories do bother me. because it’s exactly a marriage of a different kind where all the bickering happens over the startup child! i completely agree with you that it is one of the most defining relationships of your life. period.

    i so LOVED THE IDEA of having a ‘you’re a bitch’ session! ventilating is cathartic and am sure gives you a great perspective on things. and ensures you are always open about everything. it would work perfectly in such cases where both co-founders sit together in office and are in each other’s face all day long….!

    for co-founders who don’t live in the same city – it wouldn’t probably work 🙂

    you’ve pinned the nail by mentioning goody-goody environment – i don’t think it’s possible to have one ALL THE TIME!!

    GOSH THIS IS REALLY AN INTERESTING TOPIC!!! and i’m dying to hear what other ideas people add to this!

    keep writing kunal…!

  2. Thanks Asha.

    This is really an interesting topic and was surprised to see nothing much has been written about it. Would love to hear the chemistry between founders of the Googles, Microsofts and other success stories. There would certainly be many learnings for all of us there. 

    Though writing is not my forte, would certainly try to express more with your encouragement 🙂

  3. “chemistry” is another perfect word to use in the given situation!

    achha coming back to you – where do you guys have these “you’re a bitch” sessions?? over drinks at a pub (the tongue loosens up better over alcohol!!) or at work after everyone else leaves?!

    🙂

  4. We had one yesterday in office after everyone else left (though the idea of having it over a drink should be tried out). We had decided to tone it down for the initial few rounds till both of us get comfortable with the idea. And it was an altogether different experience !

    There were many points for both of us from a single session and we know ourselves better than what we did 24 hours before. 

    All in all, a good start and long way to go !

  5. 🙂 Love it.  Holding a bitch fest can be liberating.  :))

    No one is allowed to take the ‘words’ seriously” 

    I am betting (without knowing anything about your business) you guys are going to do really well.  🙂

    Damn Asha, why did I have to read your line.  “i’m dying to hear what other ideas people add to this!” 

    Okay here goes:  

    When you are open with each other and you accept the other person completely you are no longer in a “false” sense of expectation.  A bitch fest is a good way to let all the dark shit in your mind out.  The “friction” of individuality is lowered and you are better able to sense each other and work more cooperatively.  I would suggest doing it without getting drunk,  but to be focussed and serious “without taking the words seriously”.  Or in other words: “ego destruction”.  Once you are comfortable I would suggest inviting your employees too to join in too.  :))  BUT in an office environment it is risky and you need to consider the benefits vs risks.  It should not become “i can give gaali to my boss and get away with it”.  The benefits are deeper trust and empathy with each other.  

  6. This is awesome 🙂 Nice stuff Kunal.

  7. Thanks Abey for the kind words. 

    You made very good points, would try to build on this. Have not thought of inviting employees in this session as of now, but for them :

    1. We have open round table discussions and invite criticism for any policy at the office or our (the bosses’) behaviour. Some things have been changed based on the inputs from this session.

    2. To vent the employees’ frustration, the entire team plays Counter Strike (multi player shooting LAN game) twice a week during office hours. Here they get a chance to virtually kill their bosses 😉  I can understand how satisfying this can be 🙂 This has really worked wonders to defuse tense situations and bring things back to normal instantaneously.

    Am sure there would be many such small small activities that all of us do. It would be great to hear them and implement suitable ones. Please keep the suggestions coming.

    Thank you.

  8. Thanks Pushkar.

  9. Kunal, loved your idea of ‘You are a b!tc#’ session.

    But I’ve seen times that even this wouldn’t work, specially if the founders have developed ego shells that are hard to break into. I bet this would only work if you and your co-founders want it to work. Though in my case, I was not one of the primary participant but the mental and physical exhaustion was too much to bear while concentrating on a product launch (being the CTO). This was my second venture which had to face this situation and we eventually had to exit by selling off the company to someone.

    I’ve already started off with my third venture “Liqueret” (the first one is working fine) and I’m very desirous not to be in the same situation again. Still looking for co-founders for the current venture.

    A failed venture has at least taught me what to do and what not to do.

  10. You should read Maverick by Ricardo Semlar and Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh the CEO of Zappos if you haven’t already.  I haven’t read the second one but I was all over the first one.  

    The basic philosophy is this: increase the happiness quotient of your group and they’ll surprise themselves by what they can do.  

    Oooooh.  LAN shoot out? Wow!!! I love it.  

  11. ‘You are a b!tc#’ session might sound like a good idea in theory. But, I recommend: Tread with care! Simply saying that “No one is allowed to take the ‘words’ seriously” may not necessarily ensure that someone’s feelings will not be hurt. 

    Of course, it is essential that issues are not allowed to accumulate for a long time. But an all out, bare knuckles session when adopted by people who are not mature enough to participate in such an exercise can lead to a plethora of undesirable outcomes.

    Instead, I recommend a very professional, structured and mature approach to establishing and running the partnership, keeping in mind that everyone’s risks and rewards are balanced at all times. (A personal gripe here, if I may: Most Indian’s I have come across, think that ‘professional approach’ means a cold, distant and machine like – an undesirable way to deal with people. I think, ‘professional approach’ means skilled, logical and devoid of emotional fallacies so that the best outcome can be achieved given the realities on the ground – a very desirable way to deal with people you are in business with). 

    Once the lopsided risks, reward and work-pressure issues are sorted, you can approach hurdles with a problem solving point of view rather than walk into an emotional minefield of inter-personal mess every time the team faces a business related problem.

  12. Sure Abey, will certainly get hold of the books at the first chance. The basic philosophy you mentioned is certainly very simple yet effective 🙂

  13. Completely agree to your points. Hence, the first session that we conducted was an extremely toned down version of the above description. We have decided to follow the ‘professional approach’ till we get comfortable with the idea and change the tone of the session as required in the future. 

    I agree, it requires a lot of maturity to handle bare knuckle knocks even from the closest of the person, so its better to make it as impersonal as possible and give the shortcomings a strictly professional context. Hope this would highlight the problem areas sufficiently and not add to them.

  14. Yes Vipul. It really requires people without egos to handle such criticism. It is sad that many a venture do not achieve their potential just because of these small things. Wouldn’t it be great to sort them out in the beginning itself and focus on the business problems rather than inter-personal ones. 

    Wish you all the best with you new venture and search for co-founder.

    Thanks.

  15. This could really be a case of Whom you Hand the Baton to!!!

    Everyone is my Teacher, Some I seek, Some I Subconsciously attract.
    Often I learn simply by Observing others.
    Some may be completely unaware that I am learning from them, yet I bow Deeply in Gratitude!!!

    Though if Both the parties are Equally Level Headed it might work in some positive results for the purpose it is intended for for the Start, but if there is any level Differentiator with the Intention being otherwise it might Backfire with Disastrous results and the Frequency may never return to the original level, so tread carefully on this path (Its Risky is what I am trying to say, also Personal to Individuals as well).

    One of the two parties in Mutual consent might take it rather too seriously to Involve many other Things which may or may not be related and then again the question of Putting down Policies and Do’s and Don’ts might be felt as a need too for such a session. Then it might just become a Game or Formality, hence not serving the actual purpose it started with, Fuelling negativity than Positivity. 

    It is rather a better idea to Keep it on ‘Stick em up Notes‘ as and when required, keeping it only to the Professional terms (or Personal too at times, as required) So you need not wait for the Staff to leave before the Start of the “b!tc#’ session” Keeping it Private ALWAYS makes sense and serves the purpose too, we have Whatsapp and other TECHnological advances in the Modern world in case if this is not a Distance Relationship, sitting down 1 on 1 across the table at times Out of office hours makes decent sense if Keeping in touch on a daily basis is really that Difficult to convey the required message across and understanding between the two parties is Still a Distant Thing to resolve as well !!! Then there is something Wrong for sure which needs immediate attention and corrective measures too.

    You should always look for Someone Better than you, So it makes sense when You have the Brainstorming sessions as well (an Old Entrepreneural Saying)

    Courage isn’t having the Strength to Go on
    it is Going On when you don’t have Strength!!!

    Sometimes Accepting things and Improvising also makes More sense than as mentioned above 🙂

    Though if it is taken in the right sense and works Both sides What best than a Casual non Formal Talk anytime with or Without a Drink !!! Cheers!!! 😉

  16. Thanks Darshan.

  17. Mixed feelings.

    I think it is more important to have the “What is expected?” sessions than these. I tell you what: At times people hold onto what you say. I think it is more important to have an authentic relationship as a part of the culture. These sessions will look good now, but the moment one partner consistently starts delivering more than the other, you will sense some gaps. 

    Kunal, we were three partners when we started, and the third partner was a very nice person and an amazing friend. Even after two years of working in that start up, we worked like best friends. However, things started to take different directions and he had to bail out. 

    When we started, we were for the first time living the “We do not have bosses” time, and the things were goody goody. A lot of people envied the partnership and the chemistry. 

    Now, he and I do not talk more than once a year. He runs something else. Is a nice person, but he and I became weird when   the organisation ran dry for sometime. We were below projections. Probably we all tend to behave differently when Money/No Money starts interrupting. But hey..I am speaking for myself. I learnt a lot post that. btw…

  18. Hi Jatin,

    Very good points. “What is expected” can be a great way to focus only on the professional qualities that the partner should bring on board. It also steers away from hazards of “saying too much without meaning it”. Will try to inculcate this part in our next sessions.

    Thanks a lot.

  19. hey kunal,

    sorry just felt like messing your post a bit on the top!

    this goes to thinking wayyyyyy out of the box – and sharing it with us!

    keep sharing!!!

  20. Oh Wow !!!

    Hadn’t expected this… Thanks a lot Asha 🙂     I just can’t stop grinning.

    Will surely keep sharing more !

    Cheers. 

  21. Hi Kunal,

    I read this a month back (when Asha pinged me to do so) and I connected with a few points.

    Wanted to share my experience in detail but have been caught with work.

    So to keep it short, one important mistake I realised is that “Being Friends” with your working partner is extremely essential. You should know when to shut the PC and grab the beer and forget the excel sheets to head to the theatre even if its the worst movie ever.

  22. hey vipul, 

    you MUST share some of your learnings with us. seriously….. it would add tremendous value to the community. whenever you have a breather – do share some what to do’s and what not to do’s….

  23. hardik,

    awesome point. i think at the end of the day, your co-founder is JUST AS IMPORTANT as your spouse. so you have to let all walls fall and try to make sure you both go home happy every evening. not always possible – but this “we time” certainly helps.

  24. Hi,

    I read a book title “power of 2”. All the great companies GOOGLE, HP, APPLE… have 2 partners..

    recently even Narendra modi and Amit shah were 2 partners for the BJP. Nice book, shud give it a try.

  25. While on the face of it , this idea really looks cool way to let all have a go without any hesitation , I am not sure how it will be perceived and managed. It is just appears to be that it attacks person than problem.

    Though I agree that open discussion on such is very important and required. So I just had following thoughts and would like to know how this sounds.

    1. What if we have a session about “this is how I would have done it” 

       => so it takes person out of equation and there is no direct bashing but we address the problem and not person.

    2. what if we have ” this is how it could have been better”  => this just takes to a new level where all just have constructive discussion on anything irrespective of good or bad results so far.

      => we can discuss good things too and figure out what could have made it better and then best

      => for bad things / problems , all can discuss and figure out what we could have done collectively better.

    Note : I would really want to emphasise that people should not be targeted but the problem. 

    would like to hear your views and discuss !

    -thanks for this aweome post that triggered my thoughts and am sure it will be a great help for all

  26. Hey Prashant,

    You are bang on with these points.

    The two points you’ve mentioned are already followed in MNCs. I have experienced them first hand and found some positives and negatives for that approach. Hence came the thought of coming up with something suitable to smaller startups and close-friend-partners.

    We ourselves did not go ahead with #BitchFest, discussing the topic itself, threw up some interesting points between the 2 of us. 

    Kindly keep sharing such inputs.

    Thanks. All the Best !

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