Couples therapists are looking after distraught entrepreneurs whose relationships are neither romantic nor strictly business.

Tom Lehman and Ilan Zechory, two founders of Genius.com, have grown so close since meeting in college and eventually launching the Brooklyn, New York-based website (formerly, Rap Genius), where users annotate song lyrics, that their relationship has the symptoms of a dysfunctional marriage. Among other things, the co-founders have squabbled on the way to yoga, they've gotten into heated exchanges on business trips and when one of them is late to a meeting, it's akin to a personal attack, according to the New York Times.

This may sound a little silly, but if you have a co-founder, you can likely attest to having had some heated moments. The trend in seeking professional help is on the rise among entrepreneurs, according to the therapists interviewed by the Times. It makes sense, if you think about it. With so much riding on your relationship, it's vital to keep it together--or else face potential business doom. 

The Backstory

Having met as freshmen at Yale, Lehman and Zechory (who are both now 31) not only go to work together, but they also vacation together, go to dinner together, watch TV together. Basically, they're inseparable, which is great--until it's not.

A turning point in their relationship took place in a New York taxi-cab, where Zechory, worried they would be late to a business meeting because of traffic, walked the rest of the way to Penn Station after Lehman pressed the issue, Zechory told the Times. A month later, they went to couples therapy.

Like a double edged sword, the founders' differences are what makes the company viable yet vulnerable. Psychologist and leadership coach Richard Hagberg told the Times that he counsels many people working in startups.

"A lot of these people have never worked for anyone," he said. "They have no effective models of what leadership is."

Breaking up, of course, has serious consequences for any company. For Genius, the co-founders' strife is risking the jobs of 40 employees and many millions in investment. So they've taken their problems to heart, which is a good idea for any founding couple or team. When one couples counselor suggested Zechory and Lehman stop working together, Lehman stopped seeing that therapist.

The Upshot

Through the ups and downs, the founders say they have learned three lessons: don't miss an opportunity to say something positive, walking away from a heated discussion isn't the same as abandonment, and it is better to talk about a problem.

"Any time you feel negatively toward someone you love," Zechory told the Times, "it stings a thousand times more."

Published on: Apr 20, 2015