The pandemic pushes the co-founders to couple therapy

Before they were co-founders, Kris Chaisanguanthum and Ryan Damm were friends. Then, in 2016, they launched Visby, a holographic imaging company. “You talk about going into business with someone you get along with, but nothing you do with your friends is as intense as starting a business,” says Chaisanguanthum. “It is in many ways like having a child.”

Chaisanguanthum, who already had a child, was not prepared for the commitment he had made. He and Damm had a hard time making decisions when they didn’t agree. After a difficult day, Damm liked to empathize; Chaisanguanthum preferred to be alone. After a few years, the hurt feelings had escalated to make their working relationship untenable. Chaisanguanthum remembers an article he had read that co-founders were going into therapy, like couples in difficulty. “I remember thinking, this is the most Silicon Valley thing of all time,” he says. But what did they have to lose? The two made an appointment.

Co-Founder Therapy has a long tradition of self-improvement in Silicon Valley alongside mindfulness meditation and intermittent fasting. But it quickly became more mainstream after a stressful pandemic year, which prompted many more founders to attend therapy sessions.

Laura Kasper, a psychologist in San Francisco, noticed a significant increase in the number of co-founding clients during the pandemic, when external stressors made the lives of startups even more hectic. “The majority were in crisis,” she says. Communication problems were magnified when conversations were limited to emails and Zoom. Power struggles, one of the most common issues among founding teams, were exacerbated by an avalanche of new business decisions, as to whether or not to pivot.

Reid Hoffman a assimilated running a startup to “jump off a cliff and assemble a plane on the way down”. Elon Musk compared it to “dining glass. “But many founders still underestimate the challenges that come with working alongside another person, day in and day out, with a kind of intimacy often reserved for weddings. Noam Wasserman, who has spoken to thousands of founders at the time. writing his 2012 book The Founder’s Dilemma, estimated at the time that 65% of startups fail due to conflict with co-founders.

These conflicts have only intensified under the stress of the blockages of the last year. “If there was anger and resentment that weren’t addressed, it really started to manifest more intensely,” says Matthew Jones, psychologist and creator of the Clarity Co-Founder Coaching Method. “I saw several partnerships which, under different circumstances, could have lasted a little longer.” Just like the outbreak of pandemic ruptures, says Jones, the pandemic has not cause conflicts between co-founders as well as bringing back those that already exist. Since coworkers are generally less likely to talk about their feelings than couples, these tensions have driven a number of exasperated clients into her virtual office.

Jones charges a monthly retainer of $ 2,000 to help his co-founding clients “leverage self-awareness” in their decision-making. While the work is separate from executive coaching or couples therapy, it places a similar emphasis on building trust and communication. “Most business-related disagreements are actually due to unresolved emotional difficulties,” he says. “I teach the co-founders the art of dealing with conflict by slowing down and really listening to each other in a way that helps each other feel heard and understood.”

It might sound a bit woo-woo, but some swear by it. A startup founder told me that simple exercises, like repeating what his co-founder told him before answering, probably saved his business relationship. “If you think about the startup culture, there is a premium to speed,” he said. “This causes us to deliberately slow down. As useful as his sessions were, he wasn’t sure the startup community would view these practices favorably. He and his co-founder spoke to me on condition of anonymity because they are increasing their Series B and don’t want to alienate investors. “Going to therapy,” the founder told me, “suggests there is a problem.”

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