Narcissists as co-founders of a start-up

How to protect yourself from toxic people
What to do if co-founders in the startup have a narcissistic personality?

Narcissists in start-ups


What to do when co-founders in startups have a narcissistic personality?

Narcissists as co-founders of a start-up


Many start-ups fail. There are many reasons why. It is especially unfortunate when everything could go well, and it is up to the founders that a venture fails or at least does not go as well as it could. Different perspectives between the people involved can be very enriching. A good team complements each other. Except, unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Problems between co-founders are quite common. And unfortunately, they can’t always be resolved. It becomes especially tricky when difficult personalities are involved.

What to do if a co-founder in the startup has a narcissistic personality?




Well-meant recommendations


There must be something that can be done. If you start looking for solutions, you will find many suggestions. There are many well-intentioned recommendations on how to deal with difficult people. Bookstores and the Internet provide patent remedies.




But …


Many of the well-meant recommendations, such as addressing narcissists about their behavior and then hoping for improvement, too often cause enormous damage. And worst of all; it’s rarely reversible. In the post 30 tips for communicating with narcissists, learn more.

A lot of what works for good communication and relationship building in other situations makes situations involving narcissists worse. When it comes to interpersonal conflict, narcissists do not take a fair approach. If they feel it is necessary, they also accept their disadvantages. This can cause considerable damage and can ruin entire companies and the people involved.

For legal questions, contact the appropriate experts. To make sure that you take into account the communicative and psychological possibilities, I am here for you.




Narcissists in start-ups



With their charisma, narcissists can be captivating. In good expressions or moments, narcissists can succeed in providing orientation to others and inspiring them.

Grandiose narcissists have an advantage when it comes to launching challenging projects. They invest in performance and create buzz. Because they know how to make a convincing first impression, they get their foot in the door and ideas sold. If the goal is to move a startup forward quickly and stubbornly, the chances are good. In this phase, those involved are also more willing to overlook collateral damage.

There are a disproportionate number of narcissists in leadership positions. The desire for power and the willingness to make the necessary effort to impress relevant people are typical of narcissism. However, the beautiful appearance is deceptive, narcissistic personalities cause damage.

Sooner or rarely later, the narcissistic personality becomes a problem. I describe this in a separate post. Then the disadvantages become too great to ignore.




Determination and risk-taking


A common strength of narcissistic personalities is their uncompromising determination to get results. Their lack of ability to self-reflect does not allow for risk awareness. As a result, they bring projects and innovations forward.






Someone probably had reasons why this person was chosen as a co-founder. People with narcissistic structures do not only bring disadvantages. Not all narcissists are incompetent. Some projects benefit greatly from narcissists. However, they also often do considerable damage, which is often noticed with a time delay.

Because they cannot maintain genuine trusting relationships and accept feedback, their vision is very limited. The lack of social skills and the overestimation of self have consequences. Yet, the issue of narcissism and its importance is still largely underestimated.

Awareness of causes and correlations in narcissistic personalities is still scarce.




Look very thoroughly



It is human to make mistakes. However, insufficient preparation comes at an unnecessarily high price. Depending on the strategy, such collaboration in a start-up is planned for a specific, short, or longer period. And sometimes things turn out differently than planned. That is why it is so important to consider in advance whether the cooperation in the team is promising.

Because awareness of narcissistic personalities is not very widespread, I strongly recommend developing a sense of this issue. Their charisma, sometimes perceived as charisma, can be very empowering. However, behind the dazzling facade often hides a difficult person. The article 36 clues to a narcissistic personality will help you. The sooner you recognize narcissists as such, the better.




Who is responsible?


In the beginning, narcissists still sell themselves as an asset. They disguise themselves to those people with whom they want to make a good impression, as long as it is advantageous for them. Then, more and more often, they take off their mask and the damage becomes greater and greater.

Usually, those people who could intervene are still too blinded by the self-promotion and promises on display. When the true character is recognized, it is typically already very late. And the damage can be very great.

Who could and should exert influence here? Investors, business angels, and other experienced persons, who are not yet familiar with narcissistic persons, will probably waste their valuable contributions elsewhere, here. On narcissists, this has an often even negative effect. If they think they have to accept the offers, they will do so. But it is done only for appearances. Those who forced them to do so will feel revenge for this ignominy when there is the opportunity.




When it happened 


You are at a point where you have gained the impression that you are dealing with a narcissist. However, you cannot flee immediately. Then it is best to proceed very carefully.




What you can do


What you can do if people in leadership positions turn out to be narcissists?

You might start by looking at the post 42 Tips for Communicating with Narcissists. Then you can seek support for dealing with narcissists. And do it as soon as possible, because it’s easier to prevent problems than to correct them. Narcissists are extremely sensitive and never forget even perceived humiliation. Narcissistic personalities perceive even understandable constructive feedback as a personal insult and want to retaliate for such insolence. And they know little inhibition in doing so.

Here are a few typical issues I assist with:




1. Goals and strategy


You need a very deliberate strategy on how to proceed and especially where to go. Also, because the risk is so readily underestimated; it doesn’t get better. Narcissistic personalities don’t get more compatible; it probably gets harder. You need a plan!




2. Adjustments


Adjust to the idiosyncrasies of narcissists. Deliver as minimal unintended friction as possible through your behavior. The challenge is to curb narcissistic behavior at the same time. In doing so, many have already exhausted themselves.




3. Communication


Prepare each important conversation carefully. Remember that the recipients decide the meaning of your messages, and narcissists tend to be very idiosyncratic in their interpretations. Learn to tailor your communication to this, because even details quickly do great damage.




4. Stay balanced


Sooner or later, even the most confessed personalities get out of control. All this can’t be true! But it is essential to keep your nerve when you have decided to take the most constructive course possible. The best techniques (which I will give you) will only work if you stay in a good state of mind. You will need that for the entire phase.




5. Ask for support


The earlier you get support, the better. Prevention is better than aftercare. Narcissists are vindictive, very vindictive. For legal and tax issues, contact the appropriate experts, if it is about the interpersonal aspects, such as communication, then you are in the right place with me.

Help dealing with narcissists (no legal advice!)


It's urgent? Thanks to an immediate bank transfer, it is also possible to organize sessions at short notice, often even on the same day. In any case, you can orient yourself by reading the list with fees. Typically, a telephone call of 60 minutes is enough. Either you come to me in Berlin or we organize a telephone meeting or use the Internet with a video conferencing system. If you wish professional support for your decision-making, communication, or because you suffer emotionally from narcissists, then we can arrange an appointment.

As much as I would like to - with the large number of requests I receive, I keep the amount of volunteer help at a feasible level.

If you want professional support (in the areas I offer and this does not include any legal advice), then we can make an appointment. Either you come to me in Berlin or we make a telephone session or use the Internet with video support. This has proven to be very successful. Thanks to real-time bank transfer, it is also possible to book appointments at short notice. We can make an appointment first or even easier and faster; you book your session and as soon as the fee is received, we find the next available appointment.

If it is about the psychological effects, I offer therapeutic help for people suffering from narcissists and coaching for other issues. You can find the fees here. Please note the reduced fees for therapeutic assistance for people suffering from narcissistic abuse.

Not all sufferers have the financial means to do this, I know. You can then at least use the comment function to exchange information with other sufferers. Sometimes I also answer questions there, occasionally even beyond that. I am aware of the suffering that can result from contact with narcissists. However, the day has only 24h, and therefore I ask for understanding for my procedures. I am aware of the suffering that often results from contact with narcissists. That is why I offer a free telephone consultation every first Monday of the month from 9:00 to 12:00 for initial impulses. Please use exclusively the telephone number +49 (0)30 864 213 65 for this purpose. Calls outside these hours and on other telephone numbers exclusively in the context of the professional support mentioned.

So: Questions that may also interest other people, please ask in the comments. Some topics are of a more private nature and I offer professional support for them. Let's have a direct conversation about this. If you are interested in support, for organizational questions and appointments you can reach me personally best by e-mail (, conditionally also by phone +49 (0)30 864 213 65., mobile +49 (0)30 864 213 65.

Just ask me personally


Please post any questions that may be of interest to other readers in the comments. Looking for professional help?

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What thoughts come to your mind about this topic? Have you encountered narcissists in startups?

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This article is a short excerpt from the more comprehensive course materials my clients receive in a group or individual training or coaching.

Published: May 20, 2020
Author: Karsten Noack
Revision: September 23, 2020
Translation: ./.
German version:

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