I am fortunate to be a Fellow on the 2018-2019 London cohort of the Start Up Leadership Program, SLP.
SLP is a highly selective, global, world-class training program and lifelong global network for outstanding founders, leaders, and innovators who want to become start up CEOs. The program began in Boston in 2006 and has grown to 28 cities in 13 countries. Every year 15-25 Fellows join the program in every city. It is a not for profit organisation.
The training program is peer led and on the 4th February 2019 I organised a class for my other Fellows on ‘Cofounder Conflict and Founder Wellness’.
So many initial adjectives spring to mind when trying to describe life as a start up founder: creative, exhilarating, stimulating, as well as all-consuming, and challenging.
But one constant feeling is that of chaos, sometimes a beautiful, gratifying chaos, and occasionally a frustrating and enervating chaos.
In the midst of chaos, it is easy to lose sight of the basics, looking after one’s fundamental needs. Start-up founders forget that we need to sleep, to eat (that means food, not convenience crap), to drink plenty of water, to feed our plants plenty of water, to make time to relax, to reassure our family and friends that we haven’t emigrated without warning.
To avoid the all too common, but dreaded ‘burn out’, founders need to take care of the most important asset in their business; here’s looking at you kid.
If we have cofounders to share the chaos with us, inevitably there are going to be delicate moments. Spending so much time with another person, or persons, when the pressure to succeed is so great, fuelled by our own passions, but the chances of actually doing so are so tenuous, can lead to difficult situations. How these situations are resolved are a huge determinant in whether a start-up ‘makes it’, or not (at least to it’s 18 month birthday).
The class on the 4th February was divided into two sections. The first section involved three diverse and experienced entrepreneurs sharing their personal insights on cofounder conflicts:
First up was Sarah Porter, founder of InspiredMinds.
InspiredMinds is the fastest growing AI tech community and event organiser. Sarah was recently nominated for female tech entrepreneur of the year.
Sarah has founded World Summit AI, the largest worldwide AI tech summit, is a founder of ADA-AI, a worldwide not for profit policy group on AI, IntelligentHealth a global summit on AI in medicine, a sponsor of the Afghan all girl robotics team (yes that same team that Trump didn’t want to enter the US), and actively campaigns for women’s rights globally.
Sarah has even been invited to speak by the UN.
During the class, Sarah talked to us about defining the parameters of partnership from the beginning to avoid potential conflict later.
She mentioned a ‘musketeer mentality’ that needs to be adopted by cofounders, reminding us that things will go wrong and you need a no blame mentality
She discussed the importance of ‘knowing your end’; know what you all want and when along your roadmap.
She advised that as cofounders we must agree upon our visions and write these down, or discuss regularly.
Next up was Michael Othen, founder of Fusebox games.
Fusebox games make the official Love Island, Baywatch, and X-factor apps.
Their Love Island game was number one for downloads on the app store for a period last year.
Michael previously founded Digicub, a mobile game development studio responsible for multiple titles and over 3 million users.
Michael talked to the group about how to achieve cofounder harmony, making a distinction between professional must haves and personal attributes:
Vesting stock options
Strong legal advice
A good board
Meet conflict head on
Work with each other’s motivations
Honest, weekly sharing
Clearly defined roles
Trust each other
Our last founder to share her story was Emma Obanye, founder of Mindful Team.
Mindful Team is a health check and agile retrospective platform that allows businesses and teams to implement, measure and track a continuous improvement culture.
Emma previously co-founded, ran and sold music start-up Buddybounce, the music social loyalty platform that attracted the attention of artists, labels and brands. Clients included Cheryl Cole, Conor Maynard, O2 and Penguin Random House.
Emma recently helped to set up OneTech, a JP Morgan initiative that wants to help 200 female and BAME-led (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) start-ups to grow and scale in London, with the view to helping 50 companies gain investment.
Emma mentioned how communication and alignment is a necessity to ensure that you’re steering in the same direction.
She reinforced the need to create a framework for regular communication and alignment.
She advised that retrospectives are a great way to discuss the good and the bad in a constructive way.
Emma mentioned keeping one’s ego in check. Recognition can lead to the inflation of the ego. This can lead to territorial rather than collaborative behaviour.
Following this, the second part of the class was an interactive workshop run by Hannah Holt, founder of Equanimity.
Equanimity is a wellness agency working with highly professional and experienced instructors across a spectrum of wellness services. Including yoga, pilates, mindfulness and self development. Equanimity work with businesses to identify their needs and help implement a program that will reduce stress levels, relieve back pain and improve wellbeing.
Hannah told us to be aware of the physical signs of stress :
Aches, pains, and tense muscles
Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
Frequent colds and infections
We learned about the power of the breath – just one inhale will change our reaction and remarkably, Just 10 deep breaths can reduce stress levels.
She had us doing power poses at the end-which have been shown to decrease stress & increase energy. I think I’ll always end my day with a power pose from now on!
I want to thank everyone involved with this class for giving up their time to share their pearls, it truly opened my mind; my neck and shoulders felt looser, and I feel like I’ve got street smarts about me now.