How to Hold Your Cofounder Accountable?

How do you hold your cofounder accountable, especially when you’ve been working in the same mid-stage startup for many years?

How to Hold Your Cofounder Accountable?

This is probably the question I get most often from my clients and other founders.

They asked me, “How can I work better with my cofounder?”

Probably the most frequent question

“I want to be leading our startup together, but I feel like my cofounder is constantly criticizing, is not supporting us in the decisions we take.”

“Maybe even a decision we took together and still that cofounder is battling against it or maybe even speaking up in an all-hands meeting where it’s not appropriate.”

I think this is not something where you want to just call them out directly. Usually, that just increases the strife. And as we all know, founder strife is the number one cause for startup failure.

Review Core Values Together

So, the trick is how to recommit again to the same way of working.

And that means reviewing your core values together.

Go back to your core values and go through the list to see if we are all still committed to living these core values and if we can find a behavior that we actually expose with these core values.

So for example, CodeCov, a startup I recently worked with, has as a core value, “deliver with love.” And deliver with love is, as you can imagine, an easy core value to hold each other accountable to.

Was that campaign delivered with love?

Was that product feature delivered with love?

Even the original values of the French revolution, probably the first example in history, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”, were used to hold each other to account and to keep all these revolutionaries on track.

Regularly review each value as a team

So, how to go about this is to do that a regular review.

I would review all of your core values for three particular criteria. Maybe once every three months, once every six months can be part of your quarterly business review. It can be just a separate meeting.

Three criteria.

One, is the core value still real? So, if your core value is pushing boundaries, then can you actually come up with a few examples where you’ve been pushing boundaries? As an individual, as a team.

Second, is it a real choice?

Don’t come up with core values, such as integrity or professional, that are just, you know, bland and what everyone needs. But come up with things like frugal. It’s perfectly fine if another company says, “spend for success,” the opposite value. But this is a choice you make.

Is the core value a real choice?

And third, most importantly, are these core values kept up?

In other words, if you have to go look for them in your drawer, you already lost. Core values should be top of mind, should be easily recitable by everyone in the company.

At Rocket Fuel, we had nerdy but lovable. And that was a perfect guideline to keep everyone on track and the kind of people that you wanted to hire.

So, to summarize, when you have trouble with co-founders, holding them accountable, don’t call it out directly. Don’t use systems such as OKRs directly. But restore that common ground. Do that by reviewing the core values together. Review which ones we are all still living whereas some others maybe it’s time to let go. And come up with a new list of core values that everyone commits to living again.

That’s the way to hold your cofounder accountable.

Reasonable systematic approach

Felix Guerra, VP Hardware Engineering, NZXT, Santa Monica, CA