Optimize for not breaking up with your co-founder

James Hawkins

Co-founder/CEO of PostHog

Last week we had an offsite in the beautiful Portuguese countryside, an hour's bus journey from Porto. We uploaded a highlight reel of the retreat to TikTok.

One of the sessions we ran was a PostHog pre-mortem. This involved breaking up into teams and getting people to suggest what is most likely to kill the company. What a cheerful way to start the week...

What surprised me was the number of people that listed cofounder breakup as a potential cause of failure.

And they're right. Around 20% of YC-funded startups have a founder leave.

So, here's what Tim and I are doing to not break up.

How we're preventing cofounder breakup

We talk frequently and at length:

  • We talk 1/1 for at least an hour a week, although often, far more.
  • We record any stuff we want to cover during the week in a shared agenda.
  • We talk about frustrations and fears, plus positives.

We avoid compensation-related resentment:

  • We have the same equity as each other.
  • We earn the same salary.

We have clearly defined roles:

  • There are a handful of things we both want to be involved in. People is one, Strategy is another. We think both of us being involved leads to the best decisions here.
  • On other things, we have clear boundaries. Tim codes and works with engineering, and I sell and work with design and our marketing team on positioning.

... and one thing we're lucky to have in common

It's tempting to claim we talked about this in advance (#visionaries), but we got lucky that we both heavily value similar philosophies around work, which means we find it easy to work together. We both value:

  • speed
  • individual contribution
  • proactivity
  • ambition
  • a VC-backed approach
  • giving people autonomy

We don't like:

  • fluffy, enterprise sales BS
  • hypothetical plans where no one does anything
  • meetings

Final thoughts

PostHog is VC-backed; we're going big or going home. That means we're playing offense not defense.

When I wanted to get Tim to join me on the PostHog adventure, my personal goal was not to try to maximize the fraction of the pie I receive. It was to build a pie so damn big that everyone wins.

This happens when you focus on building a successful company, not on bargaining with each other.

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