Dear SaaStr: What Causes Co-Founder Breakups?
Yes. I’ve had one. It’s really tough to go through.
The root cause for mine, and most of the ones I’ve observed, is disalignment on goals and outcomes:
- Do you want to IPO, but your cofounder would be happy to sell for $2m? Are you not aligned on how big to go?
- Are you both willing to put in the 10–15 years it will take, but your cofounder just wants to give it 6-9 months to “see how it goes”?
- Are you willing to evolve yourselves? You each will need to be very different managers in a few years. You may even need to become an individual contributor. Disalignment also comes as you scale. Once you cross 20, 50, 100 people, hire true VPs, etc. … your jobs as managers and leaders will need to change radically.
You can solve a lot of this with the SaaStr CoFounder Commitment Test here. It will force you to have the tough (or not tough) discussions on the above points:
The secondary root cause is when one cofounder just ends up simply not being that great. But usually, you knew that going into it.
The disalignment on goals often is swept under the rug. Maybe better to talk about it.
The cofounders of HubSpot did a deep dive with SaaStr here on that. They both were second-time founders who already had “exits” and knew this time, they wanted to go big. And that would take … going long. A great session here:
(note: an updated SaaStr Classic answer)
Published on February 13, 2023