The biggest difference between social conventions at Entrepreneur First and the outside world is in breakups. Whereas breakups in the “real world” are a source of sorrow and compassion in EF they are a source of celebration. Despite the stark difference in social conventions, I believe this social experiment has something to teach us about world beyond EF.

The logistics of EF cofounder breakup

So far I have experienced four breakups and the process has been nearly identical for all of them. My cofounder and I decided to have a difficult conversation, which turned into the difficult conversation. Now one of us is submitting the breakup form on Airtable. The form triggers an automatic message in the optimistically named team-formations Slack channel:

Slack message reads: "Armins Stepanjans [LD20], Philip Botros [LD20] have broken up". it has 7 heart emoji and 1 fast parrot reaction

The breakup is not yet over, however. The final component of EF breakup ritual is writing a message, sort of like a recommendation letter, about your ex-cofounder. It’s as if on Facebook not only romantic breakups would be announced as posts, but then each side would praise the multitude of merits of their partner. Now that I think about it it’s equal parts weird and wholesome.

At this point, I make my way to the kitchen area for a cup of tea. Every time, without fail, I encounter a “Congratulations!” from Mike, leading to an automatic “Thanks?” from my side. Confused between my gut and EF’s core principles.

How cofounder breakups feel

It took me a couple of times, reflecting on the experience while gazing into London’s skyline to understand exactly how I feel and why I feel the way I do. It’s a peculiar combination of a sense of failure and progress.

The failure is akin to a romantic breakup. The previous vision of a beautiful shared future has just evaporated into the air. The strong kinship that existed with the other person is now just a memory.

Whereas the failure is visceral the progress is cognitive. It comes from a sense of confidence that given the data I had when commiting to the relationship, I found the (ex-)cofounder to be the best potential cofounder from the cohort. Consequently, the fact that we didn’t work out gives valuable data on what I should look for in my next cofounder.

There’s also joy to be found in the process itself. The quality of cohort is so high, I can imagine myself at least doing a side project with every single person in it. Hence, the staccato cofounder process is an awesome experience. I have been able to dive deep into business problems and rapidly learn in the process.

How EF learned to stop worrying and love breakups

Ultimately, the story of how EF learned to stop worrying and love breakups is parabolic of cofounder search and startup founding process as a whole. A decade ago, when EF was first conceived, breakups were seen as something to be avoided. In fact, EF team would actively work on counseling teams out of breakups. Consequently, midway through the second batch the two EF’s cofounder’s Matt and Alice were faced with a peculiar situation; most teams wanted to break up just a couple of weeks before they were supposed to pitch. On, what must have been an extremely stressful, walk Matt and Alice came across a profoundly simple idea: to encourage teams that want to break up to do just that. What strikes me about the story is how what has come to be a fundamental guiding principle in the operation of a startup can emerge through trial and error.

The decision of choosing with whom to found a startup becomes just like any of the numerous decisions the founder will have to make over the course of running a startup. An important decision that has to be made quickly and with imperfect information. Making a good decision quickly is superior to waiting for more information in the hopes of making a better one. As most things about startups are counterintuitive, intuition is most likely wrong when thinking through hypothetical consequences. Additionally, most decisions are reversable. Consequently, making to decisions becomes the most effective tool for information gathering.

Thanks to Márton Mészáros for reading a draft of this.