When your co-founders desert you

While everyone know that being an entrepreneur is extremely challenging, I think we often underestimate how lonely a journey it can be. This is why the standard advice is to have a founding team, because a group of people can often accomplish far more than a single individual can. When you start up, you will often ask your closest friends - people whom you have known for many years, who you feel have the same mindset you do - to join your in your journey of creating a startup. You want like-minded people, who are willing to face the challenges you will encounter, and who complement your strengths , so that you can work together to create something from nothing.

Everyone is very pumped up and enthusiastic in the beginning - after all, being a founder is cool these days, and they are happy and honoured to join you in your quest! 

However, when things aren't going well - for example, when you are running out of money ; when your investors refuse to give you any more funds because they have lost confidence in your abilities; when you find it's hard to compete with companies who have much deeper pockets; and when customers refuse to pay, you may find that every founder starts thinking very differently. Even though you may remain committed to your dream, your co-founders may not be willing to continue along the same path , and may want to go give up and go their own way. They may have pressing financial responsibilities, or their spouse tells them that they can't continue slogging at a dead-end startup, as a result of which they start applying for jobs, and want to depart.

This seems like a deep emotional betrayal to you. How could your best friends possibly be doing this to you, especially when they knew what they were signing up for. Didn't they know that they would encounter lots of down during the journey ? How can they lose heart and give up when this is the time they should be redoubling their efforts to get things back on track again ? You feel very let down, because you feel they are deserting you in your time of need. 

Sometimes, you start doubting your own sanity. Are they being more sensible? Isn't it better to be safe rather than sorry? Should you cut your losses and seek safety and security in a cushy corporate job ? How long will you be able to continue alone ? And if your friends don't have any confidence in the startup, then why would anyone else? If they leave, won't all your employees leave as well? Won't it get even harder to raise money? 

You need to remember that it's hard to predict how people will respond under extreme stress, no matter how well you know them. And the truth is that not everyone can cope with the enormous stress which running a startup exposes them to, which is why lots of them will give up. And maybe this is the right decision for them, but you don't need to go by what they choose to do. You need to be independent, and remain true to yourself. 

Yes, it's extremely hard to survive on a dream and a dime, which is why many startup founding teams implode. The truth is that everyone needs to travel their own path, and you need to learn to make your own decisions.

Don't get upset with them if they don't see eye to eye with you - you don't want to lose a friend when you lose a co-founder. Learn to forgive by being empathetic - and allow them to do what they think is right for them. After all, don't forget that some marriages between sweethearts who were once deeply in love do end up in divorce - don't make a bad situation worse by fighting their decision !

-By Dr. Aniruddha Malpani

More Articles from Mentors