How to kill your startup: Co-founder Conflict

“At Y Combinator, we see a lot of companies who raise money on demo day as you can imagine, but still the vast majority of them die and about 70% of them do not go on to find any form of product market fit. Here are the most common trends”

Michael Seibel

I found an online talk by Michael Seibel here ( that described literally every issue I have encountered since starting. It is the most relevant and useful advice I have seen in a long time. I wrote them down and organized the content into something people can skim and google easily.

There’s this phrase that I think is really valuable, called Relationship Debt.

How much bullshit exists between you and your co-founders that you haven’t cleared away? The more and more relationship debt you get (just like technical debt), the harder and harder it is to execute.

Your product will fall over if you have too much technical debt. Similarly, your relationship with your co-founder(s) falls over if you have too much relationship debt.


A weak previous relationship

If you barely knew your co-founder before starting your business, it’s a lot easier for this to kill you.

No clear roles and responsibilities

It is not clearly someone’s job to do this and someone’s job to do that.

A lack of trust

Not feeling like you trust your co-founder to go do the thing that they’re supposed to do.

Unrealistic expectations

This almost always comes with fundraising. This company that sucks raised 10 million dollars on Techcrunch. We just read it on Techcrunch today, they raised 10 million dollars from this fund, why can’t we raise 10 million dollars?

Unfortunately, because the press covers fundraising so often, it’s very easy to start getting unrealistic expectations about where you are versus how much you should be raising. You never know the back story about why that fundraise happened.

Signs of co-founder conflict and too much relationship debt

Lots of fighting


No conversation at all

Preventative measures

Level three conversation

This is having a tough conversation with your co-founder about how you feel in safe space. This is not while something is breaking or while there’s some other drama going on, but in a safe space. Set aside time where you can actually talk about how you feel. Talk about how expectations are or are not being met. Divide up responsibilities and roles and basically pay down that relationship debt. Say the things nicely that are kind of bubbling inside and make sure that communication’s happening .

Explicit roles and response and responsibilities conversation

I’m going to do product. I’m going to do fundraising. I’m going to handle customer service. I’m going to handle the mobile app. You’re going to handle the database. Explicit roles and responsibilities so people know what they’re supposed to do and so that you can trust people to execute in their area all right.