I believe there's a lot of untold reasons why most start-ups fail. You always here about the poor business model, bad execution of an idea, and so on, but you never hear about the silent killer of most start-ups.
When I use the term relationships here, I speaking strictly about the co-founder relationships. You have different combinations for the founding team, but each combination has it's own unique issues to overcome with regards to relationships. Warning: I haven't solve these issues myself personally, but I'm aware they exists and keep them in the forefront of my mind when speaking to people.
I think there are two key players in any founding team:
1. The technical person
2. The business person
I don't want to great a very complex taxonomy for these two branches, instead let's just quickly look at each.
The technical person:
They are very OCD when it comes to learning and executing things. This trait is very good for various reasons. e.g., They'll look at various technologies to see what they offer and how they can be useful in the system. They'll work on different problems to a point where it's functional and they feel it solves their technical needs before they drift over to another unit of work.
The downside is that they don't value business people for the most part. I blame the technical career path for this view point. A lot of technical people work in large companies where each person is condition to focus on one aspect and that's all. Because of they, technical people are trained to focus on material measurable results. e.g., code produced. When they see a business person, they don't see anything they can really measure that they are trained to respect. So there's a natural conflict between the business person and technical engineers.
The business person:
A good business person is highly focused and organized. They think in terms of business value, revenue and growth. The business person's role is highly important to a start-up because they should be focused on the business model, growth, revenue, business partnerships, preparing presentations to raise money if needed and many more unseen things by the technical group.
Between these two groups, there's often a lack of respect that builds and that leads to people not being productive and then finally, fallout.
The different combinations you'll likely see in your company or other companies will be:
1. Two or more technical co-founders
2. Two or more business co-founders
3. Single founder (Technical or Business)
In one case, you'll have two or more technical co-founders. They are eager to develop a highly scalable system that's geek sexy. This means, they focus mostly on the technology aspects and neglect other valuable aspects such as market research, revenue, marketing, partnerships, budget aspects, and many more things. I believe this behavior is something we are taught throughout our career. "You focus on the coding, I'll focus on the project management aspects."
Another scenario is when you have multiple business co-founders. They'll spend loads of time doing what they're comfortable doing. looking at the market, figuring out different sources of revenue, think about how to do marketing, networking with people in a simular sector, prepare presentations for VC firms and all sorts of unappealing things from a geeks perspective. They won't have anything to show investors that shows investment and for the technical crowd, funding or a prototype.
You'll often find that most technical people have little respect for business people. I think the key to avoid such a case is to always show side positive progress.
Technical people should always do their best to show something weekly to the business people. This gives them a sense of progress that they can see. It's all about progress and showing progress helps keeps everyone engaged.
The business people should always do their best to show the technical team information about the business model, introduce them to newly connected partners, show them scheduled meetings and encourage the technical people to be more engaging with the business aspects.
Words of advice...
If one of your founding team members seems to become less productive over time, don't react emotionally in a negative way. Show them your progress focus on the achievements completed thus far. It's not how far you have to go before it's done, it's about how far you came. Then there's a turning point you can focus on the last 10 years as a way to motivate people.
Just my random thoughts for the day. I need to get back to coding. I'd like to hear about how others had problems with their founding team.
-Richard L. Burton III