Although she's best-known as a voting-rights advocate and Georgia gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams is also a three-time company founder--and each time, she's had a co-founder. The same co-founder.
The business relationship between Abrams and Lara Hodgson has only grown sturdier through their ventures, and also through their failures. When I interviewed the two for Inc.'s What I Know podcast, we spoke a lot about those failures. And each time, the women seemed perfectly in sync about where they tripped up, and what they learned along the way.
I thought they might have some advice on how to establish the framework for a co-founder relationship that both perseveres and evolves. What I didn't expect, however, was that withstanding the pressures of collaborating on the operation of a fast-growing company was something they'd planned for extensively from the very beginning.
"When you work that closely, when your livelihood depends on someone else, there is going to be tension. There is going to be worry," Abrams says. "But what there can't be is doubt about integrity. And you get beyond that by setting it down on paper."
When setting up each of their ventures--a consulting firm called Insomnia; a retail product company called Nourish, which sold a baby bottle prefilled with sterile water; and their current startup, Now, which makes a financial tool that helps small business scale--the pair sat down and wrote out a roadmap. They signed NDAs. As further plans emerged, they continued to document key decisions.
That's important, because, as Abrams says, "when there's a conflict, trying to remember how you got to where you are is hard." She recalls a quote from Mark Twain about people's remarkable ability to construct memories: "When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it happened or not." To correct for that, she says that she and Hodgson wrote down rules "so we could gut check one another."
Solidifying agreements and creating a paper trail has served the founders especiallywell when it comes to making difficult decisions about the business. "When we had to discuss hard things, when we had tough conversations, we were always grounded in a shared value system," Abrams says. "We also had evidence of our intentions, and that gave us the ability to really focus on what was driving the conversation."
Of course, she adds, you can't rely solely on documentation to hash out your company's thorniest problems. When such issues arise, maintaining open communication isn't optional: "Paperwork is important, but you can't get through the paperwork without conversation. That's something Lara and I are really good about. We talk it through; we confront issues. We do not presume to telepathy. We presume good intention and we work from there."
You can listen to the full episode of What I Know in Apple Podcasts, or anywhere you get your audio.