Author: Purity Wanjohi
I still remember how excited I was when I found someone to start my organization with. I was assured not only of support during hard times, but also of someone to celebrate with when good things happened. The main reason I chose Ken* (name changed) as my co-founder was that we shared the same passion for the environment. However, as I look back now, this was not a good enough reason to partner up, nor was the fact that I knew him.
My problems with Ken started very subtly. One could almost ignore the signs, and excuse them for human error. It started with coming to meetings late. The excuses ranged from being stuck in traffic to forgetting about the meetings. Living in a country where traffic is unpredictable, I accepted that excuse because I had also faced the same challenges. However, as time went by, the signs that something was wrong with Ken became less excusable as human error, and I realised that the issues needed to be addressed. I decided that I would have to sit down with him and talk about it.
My objective for the first meeting was to find out what was wrong. It was a difficult conversation, especially because I got no answers. I simply asked him to improve on the situation. He did, but only for a while. Soon enough, we were back to where we were. I started getting really upset. Every meeting we had would start with an argument. It was emotionally tiring for me because I couldn’t trust him with any responsibility. I always had to call or text him reminders of what was expected. This took a toll on me.
One afternoon, Ken sent me a link to an article and asked me to read it. On opening it, I was shocked to see my face right under the title of the article. In the article was his declaration of his love for me. I was FURIOUS and to be honest, furious is an understatement. We were supposed to be business partners and now I find out that Ken was in love with me? This was the very first time that I seriously considered ending our partnership. I had no feelings for him. The dynamics of our relationship had suddenly changed. How was I to tell him this without hurting him? How was I to relate with him? Eventually, I told him. This rejection further widened our already strained relationship. I had blown his ego into pieces. Our organization was at risk as we even started cancelling our monthly events.
During one of our meetings weeks later, one of our volunteers asked him, “Ken, why are you so aloof? It’s as if you don’t want to be here.” I was so shocked by the question and I remember looking at him straight in the eyes waiting for his response. The problem was now visible to outsiders. I had to do something but even after all this, I still kept him on, hoping that he’d change. I didn’t want to leave him behind, not after what we had accomplished together. But one day, all that changed when we almost missed an event because he couldn’t meet me to co-sign a cheque to release the funds we needed. I had called him three times during the week asking him to meet me. He eventually stopped picking up my calls. I was hysterical. He was choosing something else over our organization. Had it not been for a friend of mine who lent us the money, we would have had no event to talk about. The situation had become unsalvageable and on that day, I made a decision to leave him behind. I did so, but subtly.
I stopped telling him about our meetings, plans, and events. I stopped asking him to do anything in regards to our work and organization. In my head I reasoned that if he really wanted to continue working for our organization, he’d call to find out about it. He didn’t. Days turned into weeks and eventually into months. While he was ‘away’, I got someone else to help me. She took over his work and his role. After five months, Ken wrote an email asking to come back, explaining that reason for behaving the way he did was that he was chasing his other dreams and our organization wasn’t a priority. I called a meeting and he was voted out. That was the end of our relationship at work and even in life. My new partner and I have accomplished a lot more in only a few months than I ever did with Ken. I got back my drive and my creativity. My passion was refueled and in her I saw what people meant when they say a founder-cofounder relationship is like a marriage. It takes teamwork.
As the vision-bearer of your organization, every decision must be based on that vision. Some decisions are easy; some are painful - but they all have to be made. In the end, if your co-founder isn’t leading you to where you’re going, let him/her go. Make this decision not based on emotions, but objectively, and involved others in your decision. Like the navigator in a rallying race, a good co-founder can mean the rise and fall of an organization.
Photo credit: Bart Booms/Flickr