“Establishing open and honest communication with your co-founder is the foundation for a successful partnership.”
Stacey Burns, Cofounder, Colorado Institute for Social Impact
Stacey Burns started the Colorado Institute for Social Impact with her cofounder, Jonathan Liebert, three years ago. Today, CI4SI focuses on education, certification, evaluation, and consultation in the Social Impact space in Colorado as well as other cities across the country.
The company evolved from a series of coffee conversations with others in the community who wanted to develop a social impact model for their business. “Those coffees inspired me,” says Stacey. “I realized that I had something to offer and the more coffee conversations I had made me realize the magnitude of the potential impact I could make.” CI4SI is helping support the growing movement within the business community to create social and environmental impact through the engine of capitalism. Called the 4th Sector, this new sector of the economy embraces businesses who strive to “merge mission and margin, purpose and profit.”
Both Stacey and Jonathan have degrees in Counseling Psychology and have known each other for 20 years. “Being friends first gave us a strong foundation on which to build our working relationship,” says Stacey. “We already had built a solid level of trust, and our shared backgrounds in social services gave us a common operating language.” Stacey also notes that she and Jonathan complement each other’s skill sets – she says Jonathan is the visionary while she focuses on implementation – and that this combination of different skills has been vital for their success. “Both of us have strong ideas but we are coming at problems from different perspectives,” says Stacey. “However, we are able to talk through our differences to come to a decision that we both can support.”
When you don’t have a long established relationship with your co-founder, then you need to build that foundation of trust and establish open lines of communication. “I have seen so many co-founder relationships gone wrong because they rushed into the partnership,” says Stacey. They know they need another skill set but they fail to walk through the steps of how the partnership will work.”
Without doing that work upfront, co-founders can struggle when challenges arise. For Stacey and Jonathan, that challenge was COVID. While going into 2020 they had great momentum working with nonprofits, for profits and funders on Social Impact Certification; a pipeline that stalled with the arrival of the pandemic. They quickly pivoted and converted what could have been a business-breaking situation to an opportunity. Knowing that the next generation of consumers expect the companies they purchase from to align with their values, CI4SI is now working more with organizations on how to align their bottom line with mission and talk about their impact through Social Return on Investment.
“Working with a co-founder is a lot like planning to parent with someone,” says Stacey. “You need to talk about what happens when things go wrong or right and what success looks like before you have the child. It’s better to do that work on the front end instead of having those conversations down the road when challenges arise.”
You can learn more about Stacey and CI4SI at https://www.ci4si.org/. Stacey and Jonathan will talk more about working with a partner at our upcoming Stage2Startups panel discussion on January 28, 2021.
(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong