Your business partner can be the most important variable in your entrepreneurial career, so who you choose may make or break you. We’ve been very fortunate to have the business partnership we have and a lot of people ask us how we came to know each other, as we come off as life-long friends. The truth is, we barely knew each other when we started FitFoodFresh.com, but we’ve managed to become brothers and consider our relationship a key ingredient in our recipe for success (pun intended).
Knowing that our situation is rare, here are some tips for finding (and being) the best business partner.
What to look for
Strengths Where You Have Weaknesses
It sounds cliche and banal, but considering how your skill-sets and characteristics complement each other is a major factor. If you’re already in a partnership, figure out who’s better at what and delegate related duties accordingly. My partner came from the internet marketing world and I was in call centers… so he set up our e-commerce, SEO, and ad words, while I dealt with the CRM, sales and customer service infrastructure and training. Maybe someone has a better personality for handling customers and the other is better at being stern with B2B negotiations.
What Have They Done?
What have they accomplished that could be put on their “entrepreneurial resume?” You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do. Everyone has big plans and plenty of talk, but what have they done that could reflect their value? Even if this is their first entrepreneurial venture, they could have shown ambition by climbing ranks at work, dedication and focus through impressive achievements in academia, or other attributes that you’d want next to you in the trenches.
One of the most important things to look for is someone who’s been battle-tested. I rather partner with the guy who built a $1M company and lost it as opposed to an MBA who’s never been tested in the real world. When the electricity is about to be cut off, when the refrigeration goes down while you’re out of state, when ATF shows up to arrest you because they’ve mixed up paperwork with a prior tenant… you want to know your partner isn’t going to turn into Chicken Little and run around screaming about the sky falling.
Kill Your Ego Everyday
In business and in life, your biggest obstacle will always be your ego. If you don’t think you have an ego, you’re drowning in it. You’ll never beat your ego, you can only remain vigilant of it and it’s influence on you and others. If you cannot control your own ego, communication becomes extremely difficult. Without effective communication, failure is just a matter of time.
You also have to be willing to accept critical feedback and, at some times, trust the observations of someone else over your own feelings. Become comfortable with being wrong and admitting it (it doesn’t hurt, I promise). Seek out your flaws through the feedback of others. Remember that you can often be too close to the situation to see it… it’s hard to diagnose and fix engine problems from the driver’s seat.
You can’t “autopilot” communication, it requires presence. If there’s a problem, you need to discuss it as soon as you can do so with composure. Start with the end; what do you want the result to be? What is the most effective and “safe” way to rationally state your observation and get the other person to understand and accept your 2 cents. Fights and arguments can almost always be avoided with a little tact and effort. It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about improving. Remain focused, objective, and present.
We still have heated ego battles from time to time, but they always end quickly and with a big hug. At the end of the day, we’re both on the same team and want the same things, we just get lost in our egos from time to time and need to recognize that. How you say something is sometimes more important than what you say.
Counterbalance – Playing Devil’s Advocate
We make a habit of playing devil’s advocate, even when we’re both on the same side of a decision. As an entrepreneur, there’s always a risk of drinking too much of your own Kool Aid, and it’s important to be able to look at everything critically. Having someone to provide contrast, you’re able to see more angles and possibly avoid mistakes you’d otherwise rush right into if you weren’t forced to entertain another perspective. A real example would be a retail location we were looking to open. Great deal on rent, great location, great concept, and we knew it’d be profitable. The day we were to sign the lease, I decided to stab all the holes in the idea I could, and we ended up deciding against moving forward, after months of planning. Neither one of us wanted to pass on the project, but the arguments I brought up were too sound to ignore. Six months later, we can now see it was one of the best decisions we’ve made.
It’s crucial to spend time together outside of the work environment. It’s very easy to develop subconscious correlations with energy/feelings and people/places, so it’s important to keep that in mind. If my partner and I only saw each other at work, during stressful times, it’s reasonable to expect a correlation of stress/negativity with my partner or even our office. We try to do bro-dates outside of the office when we can; dinner, drinks, catching a game or movie… 80% of the conversation is still ends up relating to business, but it’s lighter and more hypothetical/creative than the typical office dialogue of “here’s a problem, how do we fix it?” A great perk of this kind of bonding time is the coincidental byproduct of some great ideas that we could only come up with over a couple of beers and less focused pondering. It helps keep things fun and prevent burnout on the project and each other.
Business is often an unpredictable path, so it behooves you to stack the deck in your favor where you can with the variables you can control. When considering a partnership, be mindful of the fact that this person will have to have your back when it feels like the ship is taking on water. Do they have the skills and proven temperament to remain present and focus on a solution, or are they going to lose composure and become part of the problem? As you go through these challenges, you’ll also need to maintain the relationship and fight the wear and tear these experiences can bring. Keeping communication honest but composed and considerate of the affects ego and emotions have is as crucial as motor oil, especially when taking opposing views in discussions. Lastly, make sure to create personal time together “off the clock” to help remember the things you like about each other. You don’t have to be best friends, but getting to know someone helps build your compassion for and understanding of one another.