by Javier Munoz
Co-founder conflict is one of the leading causes of startup failure. While there are many causes for conflict the one that is most evident is the lack of alignment on values, purpose, and expectations between co-founders. This is critical since the way decisions are made is entirely dictated by this alignment.
The conversations needed to achieve this alignment between founders seldom take place. Co-founders are too busy trying to build something that people want, which is already an ambitious goal in its own right, and part of the art of entrepreneurship. However, I am a firm believer that before embarking on the search for that fundamental product-market fit, co-founders should have a clear and shared sense of their motivations.
Company founders should make a deliberate exercise to define their personal values and purpose even before building a product! They should first find out whether there is a strong common ground from which to build a successful organization. This “strong common ground” is de DNA for the company´s culture - what I refer to as the Minimum Viable Culture:
A Minimum Viable Culture (MVC) consists of the initial set of shared values and purpose that gives meaning to the new company and challenges the founding team to find and deliver the company´s value proposition exceptionally well.
This is not just an existential exercise for startup founders. Rather, it is a business requirement for startups looking to excel in today´s competitive world. The discussion should be about shared values that are lived day in day out by the founders, and it also should address whether these shared values help the company deliver its value proposition exceptionally well.
Culture is NOT about having a pool table in the office, and it is not only about work environment or team building parties. Making a proactive effort to clarify your founding values and purpose, the ideals that are driving the company, and the impact of your product or service, will do wonders to your ability to deliver under extreme uncertainty while undergoing the many changes typical of startups.
If you hire your team using a clear and strong culture criteria, very soon your company culture will become your other co-founder, “someone” that will work the way you do when you are not present, “someone” that will care as much as you do for your products and for your customers. It is your culture that helps everyone know how to behave for the company´s best interest. Give your culture that authority.
Since a startup’s culture is a mirror image of all its founders, you may want to start digging in to find out what truly matters to you and your team. You may start this conversation with your team using the Culture Canvas (shown below). If you have been honest, every action you take will reinforce your culture making your company ever stronger.
In 1995, Javier started his first company, a Web design firm in Miami mostly focusing on providing services to small businesses and entrepreneurs. To do his job, he found himself asking questions about the founders, about their purpose, vision, values, products and services. In many occasions, he realized the answers to these questions were not clear. So, he found himself coaching customers on how to clearly define the fundamental aspects of their business. He did it even as he realized it was not supposed to be part the job. However, he enjoyed it tremendously! From these humble beginnings, Javier has built a career out of following his passion… helping people, and building tools to simplify their processes and create greater happiness at work. You can follow Javier on Twitter @justaction!