Friday, January 17, 2014

Co-founders and married? Conduct yourself right!!!!

Let's talk about drawing a lakshman rekha as part of the wedding vows when marital partners also happen to be co-founders of their organization. How do you make sure that clear lines are drawn between office and home?

Some couples have found it very easy to leave home behind but others have not been able to do so. Here are some cardinal rules that I have put in separate buckets:
Personality type: To my mind, this is the starting point. It is very important that couples do personality mapping and then decide whether they can partner with each other.  
If both are of the type who say ‘my way or the highway,’ or both are of the laid-back, lotus-eating type, it is best to steer clear of the 
business even if they are ideally suited in terms of skill sets. It is important that they have a yin-yang personality match to nurture the business.
Responsibility matrix: When spouses are co-founders, it is very important that the roles and responsibilities clearly outlined, and as far as possible, there is no overlap in there.
This should also be communicated to the hired teams in such a fashion that neither one breaches them. Not the co-founders and certainly not the team members.
Equity structure: As far as possible avoid having equal stake holding in the company. The rules that apply to unrelated co-founders should apply here as well.
Stake holding should be decided on the basis of what he or she brings to the table in terms of experience, competence, skill set and capital. Also, it helps if there are one or two other co-founders who are neutral so that if there is ever an impasse, it can be resolved by that neutral. And whatever happens, avoid sweat equity.
Good financial practice: In most organizations, there are two signatories to cheques and statutory documents. Spouses should never be cosignatories. This could become a showstopper at the time of raising capital.
Remuneration: Salaries of spousal co-founders should be market-driven and not based on the consideration that husband and wife should draw the same salary.  It should be a function of responsibility, experience and skill set.
Professional courtesies: During office discussions, even if spousal co-founders hold different views, their expression has to be within the professionally defined framework of respect, courtesy and decorum and not in terms of spousal familiarity.
Reporting: Depending on their roles, it may happen that one spouse reports in to the other. This has to be treated with as much sanctity as one would have reporting to someone else. If this is not treated seriously, not only will it impact their relationship but the teams will start taking advantage of it and the whole organization culture may become endangered.
Shared vision: In spousal co-founders, it is important to remember the vision for the business that brought them together.  In the rigor of managing family and managing the business, somehow certain unpalatable adjectives creep in.
Words like patronizing, condescension, even contempt could sound a death knell.
It is important to take each other seriously and respect what both bring to the table, evaluate performance objectively, support and nurture for the enrichment of the organization. As in marriage, so in business too, it is important to give primacy for values like respect, trust, pride, confidence and passion.
The best example of a well-balanced relationship was brought home to me when I recently attended the board meeting of one of my mentees.
The company has four co-founders, including a couple. And one of the team members said to me that unless someone told you, you would never know that these guys are a couple!

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