How to Hold Your Co-Founder Accountable

Startup coach Roland Siebelink shares tips and strategies for how co-founders can stay on the same page and hold each other accountable in a productive way that helps avoid conflict.

Holding your cofounder accountable is crucial for the health and success of your startup. It's a topic that comes up frequently among founders, especially those in mid-stage startups who have been working together for years. The challenge lies in balancing the professional relationship with the personal bond, ensuring that both parties are committed to the same goals and values.

Understanding Cofounder Dynamics

The foundation of any successful cofounder relationship is trust and communication. It's essential to have open, honest discussions about each other's roles, expectations, and responsibilities. Balancing the friendship with the professional aspect can be tricky, but it's necessary to ensure that both sides feel respected and valued.

Core Values as the Foundation

Core values are the guiding principles that dictate how your company operates. They should be more than just buzzwords; they should reflect the genuine beliefs and practices of your team. Effective core values are specific, actionable, and resonate with every member of the company.

Regular Review of Core Values

To keep your core values relevant and impactful, it's important to review them regularly. This ensures that they remain aligned with the company's mission and the team's behavior. A quarterly or biannual review can help keep these values fresh and top of mind.

Three Criteria for Effective Core Values

  1. Realness of the Core Value: Your core values should be evident in the daily actions of your team. For instance, if "innovation" is a core value, there should be clear examples of innovative practices within the company.

  2. Real Choice Representation: Core values should represent real choices that distinguish your company from others. Avoid generic values like "integrity" unless you can demonstrate how it uniquely applies to your business.

  3. Consistent Practice and Visibility: Core values should be consistently practiced and easily recitable by everyone in the company. They should be more than just a poster on the wall; they should be lived every day.

Practical Steps to Hold Cofounders Accountable

  1. Setting Clear Expectations: From the outset, define what you expect from each other. This includes roles, responsibilities, and the standards to which you'll hold each other.

  2. Utilizing Constructive Feedback: Regular feedback sessions can help address issues before they escalate. Focus on being constructive and specific about what needs to change.

  3. Addressing Issues Privately: When issues arise, handle them privately to avoid unnecessary conflict. Public criticism can create a toxic environment and damage trust.

Recommitting to Core Values

Recommitting to your core values can strengthen your cofounder relationship. This involves regular discussions about how well each of you is living up to these values. For example, CodeCov's core value of "Deliver with Love" is a tangible way to measure and discuss performance.

Examples of Core Value Reviews

  • Quarterly Reviews: Schedule regular meetings specifically to review and discuss core values. This helps ensure that they remain relevant and are being upheld.

  • Ad-hoc Meetings: Sometimes, unexpected issues might require a spontaneous review of core values. Being flexible and responsive can help address these issues promptly.

Avoiding Direct Confrontation

Directly calling out your cofounder can often do more harm than good. Instead, focus on discussing behaviors and outcomes related to your core values. This approach can help reduce defensiveness and foster a more collaborative environment.

Role of OKRs and Systems

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) can support accountability by providing clear, measurable goals. However, they should complement, not replace, your core values. Use OKRs to track progress and align efforts, but always tie them back to your foundational principles.

Building a Culture of Accountability

Creating a culture where everyone feels accountable starts with the founders. Lead by example and encourage mutual accountability. Foster an environment where team members feel comfortable holding each other accountable in a constructive manner.

Handling Persistent Issues

When issues persist, it's important to address them head-on. Start with a candid conversation about the specific problems and seek to understand the underlying causes. If necessary, consider bringing in an external mediator to help facilitate the discussion.


Holding your cofounder accountable is a continuous process that requires commitment, communication, and a strong foundation of core values. By regularly reviewing and recommitting to these values, you can maintain a healthy, productive cofounder relationship that supports the long-term success of your startup.


How do I start a conversation about accountability with my cofounder? Start with a positive approach, emphasizing your shared goals and the importance of working together effectively. Use specific examples to illustrate your points and suggest a review of your core values as a starting point.

What if my cofounder refuses to commit to core values? If your cofounder is unwilling to commit to the agreed-upon core values, it may be necessary to have a more serious discussion about the future of your partnership. Seek to understand their concerns and find common ground, but be prepared to take decisive action if necessary.

How often should we review our core values? Ideally, you should review your core values quarterly or biannually. Regular reviews help ensure that your values remain relevant and are consistently practiced.

Can core values change over time? Yes, core values can and should evolve as your company grows and changes. Regular reviews can help identify which values remain relevant and which may need to be updated or replaced.

What if we have different visions for the company? Having different visions can be challenging, but it's not insurmountable. Open communication and a willingness to compromise are key. Consider seeking the help of a mediator or business coach to facilitate discussions and find a path forward that aligns with both of your goals.