Best Advice for Startup Founders from 4 Executive Coaches

Executive coaches share tips for cultivating co-founder relationships, managing anxiety, and more.

Last Updated: March 29, 2022

Published: March 24, 2022

After nine months of hosting group coaching sessions for M13 portfolio company founders, we’ve worked with some of the most sought-after executive coaches in service of our founders. Along the way, we’ve heard common themes. From managing the stress of scaling to warding off both employee burnout and their own fatigue, early-stage founders remain focused on their growth and development but are also stretched thin.

To help introduce our founders to new perspectives, tactical solutions, and a supportive community of their peers, we asked these four experts to share their best advice:



Brian Wang

Brian Wang

Executive coach at Dashing Leadership
Rachel Rider

Rachel Rider

Founder and executive coach at MettaWorks
Johnathan Basker

Jonathan Basker

Founder and CEO at Basker & Co.
Janine Davis

Janine Davis

Partner and executive coach at Evolution

Check out their thoughts on exploring different coaching styles, advice for managing anxiety and perfectionism, tips for cultivating healthy co-founder relationships, and more:

Know when you’re ready for coaching

Brian Wang
Brian Wang: I found that when companies are so early that they are pre-launch or not anywhere close to product-market fit, it might be too early for coaching. They should be spending time building and selling. Focus on that.

Where things can break down are when you’re transitioning from a founder who has a handful of employees to building a machine that is going to run. How do you build a leadership team, delegate, and give authority to other people?



Find the right coaching style for you

Jonathan Basker
Jonathan Basker: When people call themselves a coach, they usually help with one of three things:

1

You’re coming with a question. A potential coach can train and advise you on that.

2

You want help engaging with that question.

3

You’re ready to explore what’s underneath the question. What’s going on where this is a question in the first place? What’s happening so far? What have you tried? (I put myself in this category of coaching.)

Founders need to learn how to deal with not knowing, but not knowing the outcome can cause a lot of anxiety. “There’s a lion in that dark corner. Is that dangerous? What about this? What about that?” Sometimes I don’t think you need a coach, and therapy would be more appropriate.



Give yourself—and everyone else—a break for being imperfect

Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider: For perfectionists, it’s not just cognitive—it’s a visceral experience that can be physically painful for a founder to witness something not being exactly right. At MettaWorks, we can work on shifting those neural pathways.
Pro tip: Before making a decision as a leader, allow others in the room to ask open-ended questions: Who, what, when, where? (Asking “why” can feel combative.) This is a way to help retrain brains as part of leadership.
Dysfunctional startups can still be successful. What are you learning from the mistakes? Ask yourself:

How can I set the tone differently?

What don’t I want to do again?

Invest early in co-founder relationships

Brian Wang
Brian Wang: What’s most draining is co-founder conflict. There’s a lot of wasted energy with two human beings whose egos are battling each other. A misstep would be not to proactively invest in that relationship. For example, the first two years were good, and they’re going off inertia.

A lot of companies die from self-inflicted wounds. The hallmark of healthy co-founder relationships is the ability to take alternative perspectives. There are two things that founders need to have in order to have a successful relationship with a co-founder:

1

An intention to change and grow: So much of change comes down to micro moments of practice. When we don’t identify new moves and practices that we are committing to, our patterns will remain. These patterns developed over 20, 30, or 40 years.

2

The willingness to do the work and execute: Are you going to try different things and commit to being accountable for that?

A healthy culture starts at the top

Janine Davis
Janine Davis: As a leader, it takes a lot of rigor to regularly stick to your values. Every three months, ask yourself: “How do we live our values, and how do we not?”
Here are three other tactics to consider:

Manage your own emotional intelligence by unearthing your own blind spots. “What are my triggers and reactive behaviors? Am I in a grounded or triggered state?” If you do a weekly retrospective, you may notice that you were pretty closed off or defensive in a meeting. You may have been in a triggered state during that particular moment. Think about what you might be able to do differently the next time.

Consider using words like “input” and “thoughts” instead of feedback. For one piece of rough feedback, give five pieces of positive feedback—how the brain reacts to negative feedback is oversized compared to hearing positive feedback.

Remember: We are humans who happen to work. The same strategies that happen in real life happen in work life.

Here at M13, we understand that your to-do list is always going to be greater than your resources as an early-stage founder. That’s why we’re committed to supporting you throughout your professional—and personal—journey as a leader and entrepreneur.

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