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Aleksander Tõnnisson - Three In Bed │ sTARTUp Day 2021

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

My topic is “Three in bed” - what I'm bringing in bed with me.

How many relationships will make a full bed?

I am a founding partner at .Cocoon Ventures, a mentor in .Cocoon Program and a partner at Buildit Accelerator. I also have co-founded a startup which helps to detect cancer, remotely and non invasively. And this is what I'm also bringing with me in bed every night. So actually, there's like six in our bed.

What we see in .Cocoon Program while working with founders is that whatever happens in your work or romantic relationship, will appear in your other relationship as well. So if you solve challenges in your romantic relationship, you will solve them in the work relationship as well. Relationships are very similar, be it a co-founders relationship or romantic relationship.

What I speak here has a very personal meaning for me - in order to understand the importance of relationships firstly with myself, but also with other people, I had to go through burnout.

Swim first, resque later!

As we all know if we see somebody drowning, you should not rescue somebody unless you know how to swim. But did you know if you rescue someone from drowning, you should go feet first. Because if they grab you, you kick them away. It sounds cruel but otherwise it's very easy for them to grab you and you both drown. So before helping others with relationships, you need to find yourself and help yourself.

For a lot of us entrepreneurship is an escape mechanism. It was for me for sure. I started my first company when we got our second kid. I didn't really want to spend so much time at home so I started the company and worked 60-80 hours a week. Or you can drown the problems into alcohol. This happens a lot but this is just a coping mechanism.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

How do you know if you're in a relationship, but it's not working?

There are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Criticism isn't a complaint, it's a destructive attack on your personality. This is saying: “You are always late!”; “Why are you always like that?”; and if you really want to kick up the notch, tell your wife: “You're just like your mom!”.

Criticism is generating contempt for each other. This happens both in romantic and business relationships. Whenever you pick up the emotion of hate towards the other person, there's a contempt already in play and afterwards comes defensiveness.

Defensiveness means that you're not listening anymore. This is my wife telling me: “You haven't taken out the trash,” and I'm saying: “But you haven't cleaned the dishes!”. So I'm actually not listening, I'm counter attacking.

And last but not least, stonewalling. Stonewalling in a relationship is when one person refuses to communicate or cooperate. You may know it as its more common name, the ‘silent treatment’. This is what Estonian men know how to do from birth and it takes a lot of time to unlearn it.

Interesting thing about why it's called the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse is that whenever just one of them is present in your romantic relationship, the scientists say they can predict with 90% accuracy that this relationship will not last. Unless you do something about it.

Be aware of these - whenever you pick one up, this is a time to start working on that relationship.

Break up instead of vacation

The solution isn't going on a vacation two times per year and finally having time to talk. This isn't enough. Statistically most couples who are having troubles in the relationship, break up after their vacation.

And then there is this third guy - your startup. It’s when you are with your family and thinking about what's happening at work. And whenever you are at work, you are thinking about what's happening at home, if you haven't resolved the conflicts - you are never really fully present.

So what would a therapist tell you? Well, I know I've been there and I learned a lot of interesting things. One of the most mind blowing facts is that if people would spend 20 minutes a day on your relationship you would be healthier, happier, and you would live longer.

But now that you have decided that you want to work on your relationship, either with a co-founder, or with your wife, what should you do within these 20 minutes? If you haven't talked for two years, 20 minutes seems like a lot of time.

Me, myself and I

You need to start with yourself. The first relationship will always be with yourself. If we don't love or respect ourselves,we will never actually get it back from others.

If we don't love ourselves, we start looking for evidence that other people do not love us. Unless you fix the relationship with yourself first, you will never have a healthy relationship with others.

Second is the myth that in the relationship, we need to fix all the problems and conflicts. There's two types of conflicts within the relationship - resolvable and unresolvable.

Unresolved conflict is something which is coming from our upbringing. Me and my wife, for example, could have a very different understanding of money, and you can never change that. So we shouldn't argue.

What needs to happen is acceptance. I need to understand where this behavior is coming from, and accept it as it is. You can recognize an unresolvable conflict if you're having the same fight over and over again. Doesn't matter whether it's with your spouse or co-founder, if you see this pattern, it's very likely an unresolvable conflict.

Never go to bed angry!

The next one is an easy one - you should never go to bed angry. Whenever you let an emotion sit for a long time, it will get bigger over time. This also means you should never leave a meeting room angry. What can you even do about it? At home, it's easy - you need to make up.

But within your company you need to communicate your anger. Let's say there's a conflict within your company. This is called a soft start up. Starting conflict resolution softly means that first of all, you take responsibility for your part in that conflict. Then you communicate your feelings, then you communicate what was the behavior, and finally what you need from the other person.

The same goes with romantic relationships. Before you go to bed you should let the other person know if you're angry. Don't sleep on it because it will get worse.

The magic 3:1 ratio

But always keep your criticism and positive feedback ratio of three to one. For every negative feedback, also give three positive feedbacks. This is what keeps all the marriages together. And if this ratio goes apart, marriage starts to fall apart.

What you have with your co-founders is more or less a marriage. What it takes is actually defined every day - a moment to communicate genuine appreciation. It doesn't matter if it's your co-founder, colleague, or partner, just find one way to say thank you, every day.

And commit. Most of us are not fully committed to our relationships, or to our companies. Fully committing means that you have the intention that this will work. You're not fully committing, if you're entertaining the thought of separation.

If you're in a company, or within a relationship, taking it day by day, you're not fully committed. If you're thinking about somebody else or some other company, you're not fully committed.

So in order to really build lasting relationships, and lasting companies, you need to be fully committed. This can change over time and this is fine but at the moment, where you choose to be in that relationship, the commitment should be full.

Create shared meaning

It comes from rituals, symbols, and shared goals. Rituals can be very easy like going to sauna every other Tuesday with your colleagues or having a pizza night at home. Rituals are something that keeps human beings together. For symbols you need to have a discussion, what do symbols mean in your context. Symbols such as sex, money, home, and share goals.

I think sTARTUp Day is an excellent example of what the shared goal can do. sTARTUp Day pulled together all the organizations in Tartu and I think it's one of the most amazing events in the whole Baltics, if not in Europe, and this came from a shared goal. This is what also any relationship you want to build needs.

Accept life, don’t fight it

Sometimes shit happens and you don't have any other choice than to accept it. That's one of the most difficult challenges for me personally to accept life as life is.

When this happens there are two tools I can give you. First is to look at the situation from a different perspective. One perspective is called “This is not about me”. If shit really hits the fan, this can really bring a different perspective. But why?

Let's talk about cheating. Cheating in a romantic relationship hurts like hell. Cheating is almost never on purpose to hurt somebody, but about the person going out there and finding another secret relationship.

If we are the cheated one, we still feel it and the same is if our co-founder walks away to start another company. “This isn't about me” perspective helps a lot in this situation.

If you are dealing with a very difficult personality “This is just one way of being a human” perspective helps.

But the problem is that if we cannot forgive somebody for whatever they did, this is just as if drinking poison and hoping that this other person will die. Not forgiving somebody and dragging it along has a very bad effect on your health. “This is just one way of being a human” perspective helps in such situations.

And finally, I think you should take any advice, including my own, with a grain of salt. Because people are absolutely different. We have very different lives, we have very different wishes. So there's no one-fits-all solution.


📍 26.08.2021 sTARTUp Day Starlight Stage by Aleksander Tõnnisson.

How to be in a relationship and also run a startup? What would a visit to a couples therapy look like if you, your spouse, and your startup would all go? .Cocoon Program mentor Aleksander gives advice!

Aleksander Tõnnisson has invested in about 100 startups in his life. Now he is a mentor in .Cocoon Program and founding partner in .Cocoon Ventures.

When there is a challenge at the business level .Cocoon Program supports founders:

➝ To find the link between the business challenge and their personalities and personal challenges;

➝ To bring forth personal changes that, as a result, create changes in the business.

sTARTUp Day is Baltic's biggest business festival.




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