You Need a Pessimistic Cofounder

October 17, 2014

12:00 pm

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that you gotta be a little crazy to be an entrepreneur.

And what that crazy looks like is often unbridled optimism: yeah, we should definitely quit our jobs and work on this because the failure rate is, what, like 80%? and this has totally got major potential.

“It’s good to have the optimism in order to push ahead because you are doing some crazy stuff,” our CEO Frank Gruber told an audience in Boulder last night. 

The problem is that optimism makes almost every idea – or at least too many ideas – seem good.

“You got to have a yin and a yang. My cofounder is an optimist too but I’ve taken the optimist role, so she ends up being the ‘no’ person and she hates it. But she has to, otherwise we would be doing every single thing we think of. We have to weigh the ups and downs.”

Academic research seems to bear out Frank’s ideas. In the book Learned Optimism, author and psychologist Martin Seligman writes:

“The company also needs its pessimists, the people who have an accurate knowledge of present realities. They must make sure grim reality continually intrudes upon the optimists. . . . Their role is to caution, their banner is the yellow flag.”

So if you’re an optimist – which many visionaries are – one of the many criteria you should look for in choosing a cofounder is pessimism or critical thinking. And if you’re both Pollyannas, you might have to sit down and agree (as in Frank’s case) that someone will play the Debbie Downer.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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