Choosing a business partner

November 7, 2019

Picking business partner is almost as difficult as finding a great romantic partner. Through my own experience, I have learned several things to look for and would like to share them with you.

Challenge me


When starting a business, you will make mistakes and you need someone who can call you on your bullshit while still remaining true to the partnership. You want to have a partner who will not always follow you. It will feel easier to be with people who always agree with your opinion. However, in the long term it will create a culture of conformance and essentially destroy innovation before it started. Especially in challenging times, you need a partner that will bring a different angle or approach as you work together to find a solution.

Shared Values


The word “values” gets thrown around a lot. In this particular example, I’m referring to a simple list of questions:

  • What is company success for you ?
  • How much you are willing to wait for this business to shine?
  • Why would you leave the business?

Putting your cards on the table before even starting a journey together is critical to avoid conflicts that tear a business apart. While not all conflicts are a mismatch in values, the conflicts that do come from a misaligned values are especially deadly.

To push it even further, I’d recommend looking at establishing a Relationship Agreement between each other. It’s a simple framework which will help you to reveal the hidden corners between you and your business partner. I think of it as revealing what is not spoken between founders in the beginning and what is spoken too late in the heat of an argument by business partners.

Keep in mind that whatever agreements you create need to be regularly revisited and kept up to date as your company changes.

Company values

After coming up with your own set of values, you and your business partner sit down together and pick the ones you consider the most important ones for company success. By this time you have finished, you and your business partner should have agreement on what success looks like for all of you. When you come from the same base it makes it easier to pick from the list.

Company Vision

After you both agree on company values, its time to project those into the future to create a company vision. As early stage businesses often change execution strategy, it’s a good idea to focus on a more abstract version of your company vision. As before with the company values, sit down with your business partner to create a shared company vision. This is going to be your anchor that you and your business partner align all of your future goals to.

Alignment

Once you have created the company vision, look at the shared values, company values, and company vision as a whole: do they align with each other? Do they align with the relationship agreement you’ve created?

Reviewing each of these as part of a whole is an opportunity to voice any concerns or clarify things before agreeing on partnership. In this process, be honest and tell your partner if something doesn’t resonate with you. It’s better to be clear about that now rather than later.

In short, you want a partner who differs from you in ideas, approach, maybe in communication, but who has values and a vision for the company that align with yours. Using a deliberate relationship building approach, including a relationship agreement, will prevent many business destroying conflicts in the future. Finally, as the business evolves, you and your business partner should regularly revisit this process to evolve the alignment along with your partnership.

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