Though the startup dream is a Silicon Valley standard, success is often elusive. Money and timing certainly play a part in the outcome of a startup, yet it’s often the relationship of the founders that determines whether a startup sinks or swims.
To avoid becoming one of the nine out of 10 startups that sink, many founders are turning to a solution often reserved for more personal relationships — couples’ counseling.
Psychologist Jonathan Horowitz is one such counselor who has recently expanded his clientele to include startup co-founders.
Horowitz, who has a background in clinical and organizational psychology, began seeing couples and individuals at his private practice in San Francisco. He also has an office in Menlo Park. He soon realized many of his clients struggled with work-related issues, which he attributed to the Bay Area’s emphasis on career success and achievement.
“I started getting some requests from people who saw that I was a couples’ therapist and had this background doing organizational work,” he said. “A client wanted me to come in and work with her and her founders, so I went in and gave it a try.”
What he found was that, though the situations might be different, the issues professional couples faced were often the same ones faced by romantic couples.
“[Like in a marriage], when you go into a company with someone, you feel like you have these complementary strengths, you have these really high hopes ... and you’re committing to stick together through all the difficulties that are gonna come,” he said. “But it’s a challenge to create and sustain a relationship that’s going to be strong, but also flexible, and able to withstand those changes. You need a relationship that’s really dynamic.”
Co-founders of Aspire Recruiting Mike Prestano and Jon Chintanaroad sought counseling a year into their business. The pair, who lived together while founding Aspire Recruiting, sought counseling largely due to the stress of maintaining a relationship that was both professional and personal.
“You start running into situations like any couple would,” Prestano said. “Anywhere from what are we going to eat, to what’s our work schedule going to be like?”
Furthermore, the pressures that come with starting any business — such as money and legal matters — can further complicate the relationship between founders.
Yet another complication is often the young age of startup hopefuls.
“You have people with less work experience, less life experience, often only in their early 20s, who are starting companies when they haven’t developed social and relational skills that are adequate for this task,” Horowitz said. “So it’s a little bit like doing college counseling. Except it’s a startup, so there’s a lot of money on the line.”
Alexander Glasson is one such young startup founder. He, with his partner Roy Banwell, are currently working to get their app-development company MapMyApp.com off the ground.
Although Glasson and Banwell have not gone to couples’ counseling for their startup, Glasson said that he would consider counseling given the stressful nature of the startup process.
“There’s definitely a stigma towards counseling in Silicon Valley,” he said, “but being in a business relationship really is like a marriage, and if you’re at a point where you can’t figure it out on your own, it’s smarter to go into counseling than not.”
Prestano and Chintanaroad agreed, noting that seeing a couples’ counselor allowed them to prioritize their issues and even anticipate future conflicts.
“I think it all boils down to deciding up front how to handle foreseeable conflicts,” Chintanaroad said. “Counseling gave us the techniques we needed to get our opinions across in a more efficient way.”
To Horowitz, the ultimate goal of startup counseling is to create a workplace that not only functions better, but allows for open communication and respect.
“It doesn’t sound very ‘business’ to talk about this, but I like to think that doing this kind of work creates a workplace that is more humane.” Horowitz said. “It just makes it a better, kinder place to work.”