Establishing a relationship in which one bug can’t crash the system.
By Claire McDonnell & Gülin Yilmaz (Co-Founders, Awardly)

Marriage counseling is a multi-billion dollar industry for a reason. It’s hard to make a long-term committed relationship work. Yet while there’s a whole industry dedicated to decreasing the divorce rate, you don’t hear too much about making another kind of partnership work. You know, the kind where you spend way more time together than you do with your respective life partners and constantly contend with high stress situations: your co-founder relationship.

About a year ago, we began one of those relationships full of high hopes, despite a somewhat wacky courtship. We co-founded our company not too long after our first meeting, when the incubator at Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors matched us up because of our different backgrounds, complementary skills, and shared business goals.

Since then we’ve prototyped 30+ businesses together and launched our company, Awardly, which harnesses the power of social media, behavioral science, and gamification to dramatically improve the eating habits of teens and college students.

We’re a year in, and our Silicon Valley arranged marriage has worked. Not only worked, but thrived. Here’s three reasons we think it did.

Communication, Communication, Communication – The Magic Of Weekly Feedback Sessions.

When people don’t know each other well they can’t take anything for granted. For us, this was a good thing. We had no choice but to dedicate time and energy to figuring each other out. We instituted weekly feedback sessions. Naturally, when we’re together we most want to talk about our product, team, and sales (and also The Hunger Games). Once a week, though, we force ourselves talk about something else – our experience working together and our relationship.

Sometimes we’ve had hard messages to deliver, but over time it’s cultivated the level of trust that you can build a company on. It’s established a relationship in which one bug can’t crash the system.

Decision-Making: Let The User Decide.

We disagree a lot. Innovation Endeavors introduced us because we have complementary skills (and we got on board when we saw common values and vision). This leads to positive creative friction, but it could also lead to standstills, especially on pivotal product decisions. Fortunately we agree about one thing: the user is the decision-maker. The robust data set we’ve collected and keep adding to about user needs and preferences holds the deciding answers – not either of us.

Perspective. Nobody Was Born With It, But It’s Possible To Find It.

What if every day you woke up remembering how grateful you feel to be doing exactly what you’re doing – even when it’s hard or you’re scared? In our case, we are doing what we’ve both always dreamed of doing – building a company with a social mission, an elegant software product, and a viable business model. Alas, we are human beings, so we can easily lose perspective when faced with the sheer volume of the day’s tasks.

We keep perspective – and the persistence it breeds in the face of obstacles – with a few tactics. Gülin reflects for 30 minutes every day early in the morning. Claire breaks up the day with “remember the big picture” alarms on her phone every few hours. We’ve discovered that when you remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, being a good partner comes much more naturally.

Frequent communication, principled decision-making, and keeping perspective – those are the habits that we think make our (co-founder) relationship work. Try them and let us know what you think.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Claire McDonnell is a co-founder of Awardly, a Palo-Alto based startup that harnesses the power of social media, behavioral science and gamification to dramatically improve the eating habits of young people. She worked for years with Teach For America, The Bridgespan Group, and The Gates Foundation. She was also a Runway Entrepreneur at Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, a Fulbright Scholar in Argentina, and holds a BA from Columbia University. Follow her on Twitter at @clairethere.
About the guest blogger: Gülin Yilmaz is a co-founder of Awardly. Gülin holds an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business and an MS degree in Behavioral Decision Analysis from Stanford Engineering School. Originally from Turkey, Gülin has lived in 4 countries on 3 continents and brings an international lens and engineering background to understand seemingly ‘irrational’ human decision-making. Follow her on Twitter at @isilgulin.