The relationship between cofounders is a unique one. You spend so much time with a person, caring about your growing company as your shared “child.” The relationship between cofounders is often as intense, emotionally draining, and demanding as the relationship between spouses caring for children. My personal journey with my cofounder, Dan, is no different. It’s amazing but it can also be challenging. And I love every minute of it.
I met Dan a year and a half ago, through a mutual friend. We immediately bonded over our shared passions and started working together to create what has become our company, Circles. After the first few months, we worked on the product, built a team, acquired our first customers and spent a lot of time talking (mostly about work). A few months later, I realized that things were changing: as the workload grew, we talked less, we had more people on the team to take care of and our stress levels went up. As a parent with four young children, this all felt very familiar to the stresses you feel as your family grows.
As our collective stress levels increased, I didn’t enjoy it as much anymore. I was angry and I felt misunderstood. I thought that Dan’s motivation was off. I would find myself shouting at him and he at me. When my children listened to my conversations, they knew if I was talking to Dan or not. It was starting to go wrong and I was miserable while making Dan miserable as well.
I realized it had to stop. Or, in Dan’s words, “I didn’t sign up for this.” We needed help. So, we took a somewhat unorthodox route for founders and signed up for couples therapy.
We did this for a number of reasons but already just two months in, we are seeing results. It’s as if a weight has been lifted off our shoulders and our relationship—and company—has never been stronger. Here are four ways our one-hour therapy sessions are already helping us build a solid relationship and company:
A stronger, more confident team
It’s critical that a company’s employees trust the company’s leadership team. Dan and I are the leaders of the company and we lead by example. If we’re not aligned and our relationship is “cranky” so will be all of our relationships at our company. We must set an example and work on our communication to make their life and work better. While we have always stood together in a united front for our colleagues, our bond is now clearly strong, and that has given our broader team more confidence and belief in the company’s mission.
Investors and partners know we overcome challenges
We took it upon ourselves to build the most innovative and groundbreaking company in our space. From the start, we were obsessed with our mission and sought out investors and partners who believed in us. This meant these partners believed that we would (and still) do everything to solve challenges before us, whether it be product, marketing, or personal.
We’re walking the walk
Our mission is bigger than each one of our company’s team members. At Circles, we are building a product that will make sure that no one will be left alone while facing a life challenge like grief, divorce, chronic disease, and other life challenges. So when we went through our own challenges, we learned how important it is to “walk the walk.” We owe it to the millions of people out there who can benefit from our product; if we preach it, we need to practice it.
Focus on self-care
Building a startup is a long journey. And founders must save up their energy to lead and make decisions for the long-term. As leaders, we often neglect ourselves because there’s always something else to take care of. There’s always a new emergency to address.
What we keep forgetting is this hustle will only take you so far. Dan and I decided that we will give 200% while taking care of ourselves and of each other. We want to enjoy the ride. As we continued through our journey together, I started to better understand what Dan means and what he needs. In our weekly meetings, we have the chance to speak about things that happened in the previous week, like what made me angry and what made him frustrated. Friction went down, we started smiling more and enjoying our time together. The team even started laughing much more (sometime more than this CEO wanted them to).
Building a company and relationship simultaneously can be incredibly fun when you get the right help from the right people, and you have a partner you enjoy. To make the most of our journey, my cofounder and I learned communication is the key in relationships, including one built around a new company.
Irad Eichler is the founder and CEO of Circles, an online platform helping everyone overcome life’s most difficult challenges by providing emotional support in group settings. Irad previously founded the Shekulo Tov Group in 2004, a nonprofit that has been recognized by the United Nations and the World Economic Forum for supporting people with mental health issues or developmental disabilities.