Awesome People - Ep 72

co-founder coaching, PT coaching, SEO

Hi fellow founders and VC Friends!

Each week we deliver one awesome person to your inbox. These are the people you need to know—the marketers, sales gurus, engineers, ops wizzes— who give your startup superpowers 🚀. The best part is, everyone is hireable on a part-time basis.

Related side note: How might we make these emails better? They’re starting to get pretty long and have A LOT of awesome people and I’m wondering if it’s better to make them shorter again. All feedback welcome. Thoughts?

Please meet Elizabeth Howes, your Co-Founder Coach 😍

If you remember Elizabeth, that’s because we featured her before! She was so awesome that we decided to bring her back, this time to help you with all your co-founder coaching needs 🤓.

This is super important because 65% of startups fail because of interpersonal relationships within the founding team. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed this more times than I can count. Co-founder relationships are like marriages. Heck, you probably spend more time with your co-founder than your partner! These relationships take work. 

Over the course of her career, Elizabeth has helped countless early-stage founders backed by a16z, IVP, Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins, Initialized Capital, and other top VCs. Fun fact about Elizabeth: she lives for food, was raised in a family of chefs, and once cooked for the Iron Chefs! 

It’s never too early to build a strong co-founder relationship. Email me if you want an intro to Elizabeth. 

Elizabeth was also kind enough to offer a 10% discount to the Awesome People community for anyone who signs up before Q2 🙏.

She was gracious enough to share some pro-tips with us here 🚀

Maintain your relationship with high-frequency communication

I recently coached a team that didn’t trust each other. The CEO complained that his technical co-founder didn’t communicate enough. The CTO wanted space to code and create. The CEO wanted regular after-work beers and brainstorming sessions. The lack of communication and vulnerability between the two left them in an uncomfortable position. 

Luckily, trust is contextual and subjective. It can be built. 

To increase trust, we set up a high-frequency communication structure. Together, we touched on everything including, opinions, biases, core values, lifestyle preferences, and non-negotiables. 

Here are some questions to help you proactively set up a high-frequency communication structure early on:

  • What are each person's strengths and weaknesses? How does that define each person's role?

  • Which values/ethics are non-negotiable, individually and collectively?

  • How does each person want to show up? What's the agreed-upon level of commitment to the company?

  • What are each person's biggest fears?

  • What personality traits keep getting in each person’s way? Where do they come from?

  • What motivates each person to push through hard times? 

  • What are the anticipated challenges?

  • What happens if things go awry?  

You want to do “relational maintenance” early in your company’s lifecycle. Once you start to scale, it's far more challenging to retroactively begin this process of value alignment and trust.

Repair rupture with inversion

Rupture happens when your relationship pushes to the extreme. You probably know what I mean -- you have the same heated argument over and over. There’s no resolution and it creates a chasm between you and your co-founder(s).

To repair the relationship, face the conflict head-on. Shine a light on the core reasons for the divide. 

What’s the hidden issue? What does it mean for you? And what’s the corrosive narrative that’s developed around the conflict?

I call this inversion: the unlearning/relearning of ourselves and the other. Inversion focuses on our hidden beliefs underpinning the conflict.

When working with founding teams, I often see conflicts arise from a lack of trust, mutual respect, and value.

Signs this could be the issue: One person feels devalued, invalidated, and excluded in the decision-making processes/relationship. There’s a lack of “mattering” to the other. 

For example, I once coached a client who excluded their co-founder from pitches and press interviews and took credit for major wins. This led to devaluation, invalidation, and exclusion in the founder dynamic. 

Excluding your co-founder from investor pitches and major press interviews while taking the majority of the credit for the perceived wins can lead to a sense of devaluation, invalidation, and exclusion in the founder dynamic.

Quick inversion tip: Practice active listening and self-responsibility. For example, “I understand how my actions make you feel that way and from now on I’ll do XYZ to make sure you feel included and valued. Your contributions matter to me.”

Shift from average to high-performance co-founder teams

Each person has an individual “code” - a set of rules and beliefs that govern their behaviors. In average teams, each founder is running their own program. The best founding teams figure out how to merge their codes to co-create effectively. The best co-founders will design systems for radical transparency, accountability, and honesty. 

One Series A team designed a simple spreadsheet framework for keeping everyone honest. As an example, they had a workflow for conflict resolution when they had arguments. Everyone, including the co-founders, adhered to it. If someone made a mistake, the responsible person noted it and publicly apologized to the appropriate parties. This format created accountability and developed team cohesion. 

Interested in boosting your co-founder relationship? Lmk and I’ll connect you to Elizabeth! 

As always, let me know if you have any questions and if you want an intro to any of the folks in this email (including the PS section 🎉). 

Stay awesome,

Julia Lipton

Founder of Awesome People Talent and Ventures (join the syndicate here

If you liked this, ❤️ it below. If someone forwarded this to you, sign up here 💌

Awesome People continued 🙏

Most recent features

Anna - Marketing queen. Anna recently started her own marketing business after 10 years in corporate marketing. Before that, she led marketing at Elevate K-12 (education co that’s raised $23M+) and Fooda (Lightbank and 500 Startups-backed co that’s raised $34M+). She's trusted by Accenture, Groupon, and Signalfire, where she’s an advisor for the firm’s portfolio companies. 

Tatiana - Recruiting wiz. Tatiana was referred to me by another awesome person and exec coach, Heather Jassy. She has served as the sole technical recruiter at places like Etsy (IPO-ed) and AppNexus (acquired by AT&T, she was employee 50), as well as her own recruiting agency. Most recently, she has filled 14 roles at Thinx (Series A co that’s raised $26M+ from MassChallenge)!

Corey - Brand expert and wordsmith. Corey is behind Pepsi’s “billion-dollar” sparkling water, bub, and designed the brand voice for entrepreneur Sean Parker’s cancer research non-profit. She’s also worked on household brands like Shopify and Nike.

Want intros to anyone here? Lmk and I’ll connect you!

Featured Part-Time Opportunity 

Maven is building a platform for Cohort-Based Courses. To help scale CBCs, they’re hiring part-time “coaches” to support the instructors and scale the platform. As a coach, you'll learn how to give feedback, build community, and work with top creators like Pat Flynn, Greg Eisenberg, and Julian Shapiro. Join Maven now as a founding coach & help shape the future of education! Awesome People Ventures is an investor and I’m loving working alongside their team. 

You can see other awesome part-time opportunities from companies backed by funds like General Catalyst, Precursor Ventures, and Awesome People Ventures 😉 on our flexible job board here

Awesome People are publishing books! Learn SEO with Eli Schwartz!

Do you want to drive 10x leads? Chances are SEO can get you there. If you want to stand out from your competition and drive sales, your SEO needs a distinctive blend of creativity and logic. One of my first Silicon Valley friends and Awesome Person, Eli Schwartz, just released his new book Product-Led SEO. The book is racking up the sales on Amazon and I highly recommend it if you want to learn the how and why behind SEO! There’s no one better to learn from — Eli’s got happy clients like Tinder, Coinbase, and Gusto to prove it.

❤️ ❤️ ❤️