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When you sit and think about some of the greatest business partnerships of all time, names like Ben & Jerry or Larry & Sergey may pop into your mind. Ben and Jerry were, and are, best friends who launched their famous ice cream line in 1978. Larry and Sergey were both attending Stanford University in the late 90's when they started Backrub, which we now know as Google. Then there are the business partnerships that certainly have notoriety but, for various reasons, fell apart- like Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak from Apple. So what gives? How is it that certain business partnerships weather the inevitable storms and others part ways?
For starters, entering into a business partnership with someone is a lot like marriage. You are looking for the person who shares your vision, drive, and goals. Someone that you can count on when the going gets tough or in the face of tough decisions. You may have to kiss a few frogs in the beginning but, eventually, you will find your perfect fit. Or so you hope. Here is food for thought before you dive into your next business partnership.
1. You don’t want a clone.
You may think to go into business with someone who may as well be your twin sounds good (birds of a feather mentality) but having someone who is exactly like you does not bring anything new to the table and likely will not challenge your way of thinking. Strive to find a business partner who has strengths that are not your strengths. Remember that a component of bringing on a business partner is to push each other, as well as the business, to new levels. If you both think alike, this may be a struggle.
2. Vision mismatch is business partner kryptonite.
While understanding and believing in what you are creating is extremely important, your business partners overall vision of how they see themselves within the business, as well as long-term trajectory, is vital information for you to know in the early stages. You may be in it for the long-haul while your partner wants to cash out as soon as you strike gold. Be sure to find out what your potential partner's vision and goal is for the business to ensure it aligns.
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3. Compromise without being too compromising.
Aim to identify a business partner who can compromise without being too compromising. Your business partner should be one who is willing and open to listening to the ideas of others but one who has a backbone if making a tough decision is necessary. For example, someone who compromises will typically listen and try to find common ground. Someone who is compromising may listen but take questionable workarounds to say there is a solution. Know how to identify the difference.
4. Someone you could travel alongside.
Think back to a time where you took your first trip with someone. It could be a relative, a best friend, significant other, or a spouse. What do you remember about this experience? Chances are, you learned a lot about this person and how they handled stress, things not going according to the plan, and being out of their element. The outcome of the trip may have had a lasting impact on the overall relationship. Going into business with someone is much the same. Your business partner is someone you will be spending the bulk of your time with so it must be someone you not only tolerate but enjoy.
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5. Comfortable with honest chatter.
Preliminarily, you and whomever you are considering for a business partner need to be able to sit down with each other and have a conversation about things that are not always the most comfortable but are necessary. What is their current financial status? Is there anything going on in their personal life that would inevitably make this business venture come second? Where do they stand within your community? Are they comfortable with all aspects of the business being in writing? As I am sure you are gathering, this is not a quick, 30-minute conversation. It is a big one that deserves time and energy. Ultimately who you choose as a business partner is a reflection of not only you but your business.
6. Have an exit strategy.
When you enter into any partnership you do not go in with the attitude of "gee, I hope this fails" but, sometimes, it happens. Out of the all the questions you should remember to ask in the beginning, please put this on the list. Most people don't remember even to bring this up until the writing is on the wall and by then emotions are high, and resolution isn't easy. You cannot predict every bump in the road, but a start-up lawyer can assist you in having a plan of action for some of the more common issues they have seen so if the time comes for you to part ways, you are prepared.
Even if you have the perfect business partner, there's a lot more that goes into running a small business. We want to see you succeed- so we’ve created an eBook to help veteran-owned small businesses every step of the way, from startup to growth stages. The “Ultimate Guide for Veteran-owned Small Businesses,” includes resources to help you get started with your business as well as an entire section on what to know about financing. Download it now, here!
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