I strongly believe that one of the most important questions you can ask in a well-functioning, growing organization is: “How are you investing in your team’s communication and relationships?”
It has also become a great question as an early stage investor and an executive coach. It lets me in on exactly how the relationships work, even if it is just two people at the beginning.
To help teams answer this question I have collaborated with Steve Schlafman to create a product – an exercise, to be completed by those founders building a company. Born out of my own work with founding teams and colleagues, I wanted to empower others to do the same. Today we are launching a way for co-founders and founding teams to understand themselves and each other better.
Tapestry.so is an exercise for co-founders to weave together a stronger partnership. It is a series of questions to be answered alone, then combined together into a single document.
I wanted to share how personal this project is for me, why I built it, and how meaningful this work can be.
Founders are selling their relationships, their milestones, their ideas, and their abilities – all for equity. We want to guide them through the journey and stay at peace.
If you invest in your infrastructure, your leadership team, your monthly software to make things hum, how can you not invest in your relationships? My growing thesis is that investors and employees are going to begin to ask this of founders they work for, and teams they join.
As the taboo of executive coaching is lifted, many are asking how they can invest in the relationship co-founders have with each other. Tapestry is one of those answers.
The first time I spent considerable time figuring out answers to tough partnership questions was with my friend Naveen Selvadurai, co-founder of Foursquare. As I left the company he co-created to join him and work together again we were at a crossroads. We had been friends for so long it was frightening to think about jeopardizing our relationship to work together again. I toiled with this decision – both alone and with him. We got together one evening and decided to take the plunge. One of the things we did was seek out our friend Jerry Colonna (Naveen knew him through Reboot – the powerhouse coaching organization, and I knew him from my Union Square Ventures days). We explored our relationship, our thoughts on working together, possibly successful outcomes and failures. As with most things, we could not predict the future or where the world would take us.
What we learned about each other in that time was priceless. We had obviously worked together before at Foursquare, but not in as close proximity that would we soon be in. I knew him as a dedicated engineer, grand platform thinker, and investor. He knew me as an operations, sales, and BD guy. What we learned is that we both cared deeply about the work we do, who we surround ourselves with, and what we leave in this world. It took us a while to figure things out. It was a disjointed and messy process.
One of the best things to come out of this discovery time together was the fact that we could call each other out, in the best way possible, when and if we saw something from our exploration.
We are now calling this “tapping out” or giving people the ability to “tap” someone on the shoulder, as part of the exercise.
In working with Naveen I learned through the process to stop and think;
Did he say something in a meeting that I thought was off? -Tap him on it.
Did I want to say something, but hesitated? -Tap out, and let him know
Was there something that was bothering me, and I was afraid to bring it up in a 1:1? -Tap out and give some space to clear the air
The list can go on and on, but one thing remains true; we are better friends and working partners now because of this investment of time and energy.
Another important lesson was that we decided to do this with founding teams we worked with. The relationship you build with a CEO running a company is critical. As an investor the fiduciary responsibilities and pressure are present. The power dynamics and communication woes are great. This exercise gave us the personality insight needed to cut through the noise, but also learn about the values of teams and how they behave.
Knowing someone’s intentions and working norms is a gift. The Tapestry.so program is designed for co-founders who want to have a stronger relationship. It is designed for those embarking on a venture scale journey. It provides a framework for people to be honest, help one another, call each other out and have a more open dialogue about how to get to that shared goal (whatever it may be) together successfully.
As Steve put it – 65% of co-founder relationships fail.
The conversations and fodder coming out of this tweet was astounding. Even the author of this stat Noam Wasserman weighed in. He is the Dean of Yeshiva University school of business, and this is cited from his book The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup.
When I wade into those conversations I get excited about the work I am doing as a coach.
Knowing the stat above I was thinking about the future where I could invest in a team that did not spend this time and energy to make sure things are right.
I have also done this with my new business partner (more on this soon!) before we even had an idea to work on. In fact it was done about 2 years ago, and we only started working together this past fall.
Since one of the only things you can control is WHO you work with, I recommend investing in HOW you work.
Tapestry.so is a way to invest in your relationships professionally and I hope you check it out. It has been eye opening to create my own special blend of questions and the exercise itself for founders. On my path to be the best advisor, this will become a tool I use with founders I coach, work with, and invest in.
The Tapestry exercise is built on the premise that reflecting deeply on how you behave can have positive ramifications both now and later.
You can do the program with your partner(s) by yourself with the template. You can also have a coach guided version of the template with myself and Steve. The difference is similar to reading about a workout routine and doing it yourself vs. working with a personal trainer. Having been through it before with so many founders and teams, we have the ability to guide founders individually through each question, then together.
I welcome the founders I get a chance to work with guiding them in the process, and excited to hear from those who use the template alone. As always, let me know if you have feedback @ericfriedmanTags: Co-Founder Relationships, Executive Coaching