The third article in a series on the steps to starting a venture
This post was written after Writing the Business Plan, but choosing a business partner can happen before or after writing a business plan. The order is less important than what takes place at each step.
Choosing the right business partner can be one of the hardest parts of launching a venture. Business partners often find each other because they’re working on similar projects in college, were friendly before starting the venture, or met at a networking event. There’s nothing inherently wrong with choosing the guy who sits next to you in marketing class or the girl who sits across from you in computer science class. There’s nothing inherently wrong with asking your best friend from childhood to start a venture with you. There’s certainly nothing wrong with inviting someone you met at a networking event for your industry to help you with a venture you’re working to launch. But make sure you’d ask that person to marry you.
The relationship with your business partner is really a marriage.
Think about it. You see your significant other after work and on the weekends, and running a start-up isn’t exactly a 9-5 job. You’re going to spend far more non-sleepng hours with your business partner than with your significant other, especially in the early years and especially if you want to be successful. So, while your friend, your classmate, or some person you met once at a networking event might turn out to be a great business partner, you want to be sure before you start a venture with them. Stop and think about that individual’s personality quirks and qualities just as hard as you think about his/her business qualifications.
An ideal business partner will contrast your skills to round out the needs of the business and fill in your weaknesses. The same is true of personalities; opposites attract. If one partner is very introverted, she/he should look for a more extroverted business partner. The latter will likely be more comfortable handling any face to face client contact, being the public face of the venture, etc. It’s easy to see why picking a business partner whose skills and personality contrast your own make sense. By filling in each others weaknesses, the venture grows stronger. Similarly, If one partner has a quick temper, the other partner needs to have a laid back attitude or the partnership will quickly crumble. Someone will probably comment that having significantly different personalities can lead to different methods of problem solving and crisis management, causing disagreements between partners. That makes the case for finding a partner with similar personalities. The problem with that logic is, if all of the founders think alike, it might lead to fewer arguments and a smoother decision-making process, but not necessarily the right decisions. For example, having founders who think alike can lead to people who agree with each other on the business model for the company, even if that model isn’t the most profitable option.
There are plenty of 20-year-old tech entrepreneurs who pick their college friends as business partners, but that didn’t work out very well at #Facebook, #Apple, #Oracle, or a lot of other companies who lost competent founders like #EduardoSaverin, #SteveWozniak, #BobMiner and others. So what do you look for to decide if someone will be a good business partner?
The answer is it’s subjective; it depends on you. Just like the characteristics a person searches for in a significant other differs based on who’s doing the searching, the qualities in an ideal business partner differs based on who’s doing the searching. Regardless, here’s 8 key questions to get you started in your search:
1) Are your future goals the same as your potential business partner?
2) Does your potential partner have a strong ethical and moral compass? This one’s obvious, but can’t be overstated.
3) Does your potential business partner have a work ethic equal to or stronger than your own? It’s not a contest, and there are different ways to measure effort, but you don’t want to feel like the other person is slacking.
4) Can this person constructively use criticism and feedback, or does he/she react negatively? You need someone who can take it as well as dish it because starting a venture is a long, hard road and you’ll hear a lot of criticism, not all of it constructive. Trust me.
5) Is the person optimistic or pessimistic? You want someone who doesn’t get discouraged easily because you don’t want to spend your time playing cheerleader or trying to motivate business partner. That’s valuable time that could be spent working on the venture. Also, if your potential partner isn’t capable of self-motivating, it raises serious questions about his/her commitment to the venture.
6) How does this person treat and communicate with employees or other subordinates? If a potential business partner is condescending, belittles employees, or isn’t well-respected by his/her peers and subordinates, that person won’t be a good manager and executive when your start-up gets big enough to have its own employees.
7) Does this person own a project and its outcomes? Ideally, a business partner will take responsibility for their own failures, rather than blame others. Blaming others and not taking responsibility are signs of a narcissistic personality, and that can be detrimental to a team.
8) Is the person creative? A partner should be able to come up with fresh ideas and new ways to tackle problems (intellectual flexibility is key).
This list of questions is definitely not exhaustive, but a good place to start. Here’s an article from Forbes with their list of suggestions, some of which we’ve mentioned above.