Here Are 3 Strategies Startup Founders Can Use to Approach High-Impact Disputes


Klarna, the $7 billion “buy now, pay later” startup with celebrity investors like Snoop Dogg, recently experienced a rare public dispute over who would serve on the board.

While the complexities at Klarna remain unique to that company, the issue highlights that building a startup isn’t always smooth sailing. Conflicts can build from within — and Harvard Business School professor Noam Wasserman claims that 65% of high-potential startups fail due to conflict among co-founders.

Luckily, experts have strategies that startup founders can use to approach conflicts constructively.

Related: How to Successfully Manage and Resolve Conflict on Your Team

Use The Right Language

A Tuesday report from the Harvard Business Review highlighted one strategy that leaders can use to avoid miscommunicating in times of conflict and stress: Emotionally proofread messages before sending.

For example, a message that reads, “Let’s talk,” in a Slack message, could set the stage to approach a discussion more confrontationally. A better message could be, “Great job with the pitch deck, let’s talk about how to refine the product-market fit slide.”

Being aware of your audience, your delivery, and how the message could be received, will help nip conflict in the bud before it begins.

Agree on How to Disagree: Create A Founder’s Agreement

If everyone agrees all the time, it means that everybody thinks the same,” Lauren Cohen, a professor of finance and entrepreneurial management at Harvard Business School told Harvard Business Review. “Successful organizations make a commitment to disagree.”

Creating a founder’s agreement, a legal document that defines the business relationship between co-founders, will encompass the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of each founder. This can be a fallback document for dealing with conflict if disagreements get out of hand.

Related: Americans Making More Than $100,000 a Year Are ‘Getting Into Trouble’ With This Popular Personal Finance Habit

Use Data And the Market To Make Decisions

When two leaders are in conflict over something like a product development decision, they can turn to user response and other data points to take a more objective approach to the problem.

Mike Freitta, a startup founder coach who spoke to Harvard Business Review, urged founders to look at the technology adoption curve, a model that shows how different groups of consumers react to innovative products and technologies, and seek out feedback to make decisions.

“There are so many decisions that go sideways because founders let go of the user-centric mindset,” Freitta told the outlet.



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