A Business Partner – Is it Really Worth it?
You may know someone who’s a good friend with solid character and who shares your entrepreneurial spirit. But should you partner with them in your business? I’ve worked with many types of partners. I’ve had great partners and some really challenging partners with whom I’ve ultimately had to part ways.
The problem is that we all tend to want to find partners who are like us. While that sounds like a good idea, I am reminded of the old Henry Ford adage—if two people feel and think the same way about everything, one is unnecessary.
Even though we tend to pick people who mirror us, that’s not who you want. You want people who can respectfully disagree with you. You want people with whom you can respectfully fight it out. You want people who will push you in a collaborative way and who have different skill sets than you. Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, battle it out over investments. Although they are close friends, they often look at businesses with an entirely different perspective. If you track the businesses they invest in, it’s clearly working.
Don’t ever downplay integrity and values. Find somebody whose integrity is evident. Even if you know them, do some legwork. Look at their past behavior. Look at the people with whom they associate. Do their words match their values and actions?
Remember, you may be in a ten-year relationship with your co-founder, so getting it right is important. For one thing, like an early-stage business idea, a developing business needs discussion, disagreement, and frank dissent. Great businesses are built, not only by partners who support one another, but also by those who examine details carefully and aren’t hesitant to voice concerns and criticisms.
You will have disagreements, so making sure that you can both follow a few rules is key to keep things focused:
- If you have an issue, stick to just that one. Don’t bring up past problems. Don’t speak with contempt to your partner: “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!”
- Don’t be defensive. If you disagree, listen to your partner and respond. Take ownership. Talk it out.
- Lastly, no stonewalling. Don’t just walk away from problems or difficult discussions.
Building a successful business also mandates people with complementary skills and abilities. If you’re great at working with numbers and financial analysis, it can be needlessly redundant to have a partner with precisely the same expertise. Far better to partner with someone who knows his or her way around marketing, social media, or some other component of the business. I am much better at vision, strategy, raising money, and building teams, so I always look for partners whose strengths are in operations, HR, marketing, or finance.
Approach your business partner as you would anyone else you recruit for your team. Take all the time you need to find the best choices possible and from there have the courage, not only to work with them closely, but also to rely on their judgment and perspective.