For months I had a friend that routinely suggested we merge agencies. For a moment it was tempting. We had worked together, I helped her establish her own company a few years back, and we shared similar interests and ambitions. But something never felt quite right, and her prior acumen was – at best – difficult to substantiate.
Like most serial entrepreneurs, I have experienced my share of good and bad business partners. Finding that mercurial balance of trusted colleague meets devil’s advocate meets work spouse can be as elusive as its domestic counterpart, except….
#Caveat1 You will probably end up spending more time with your business partner than your romantic one.
Choosing the wrong business partner / co founder can be an expensive, painful, and invaluable lesson. For most of us, the process can be long, arduous, and more complicated than expected. While no one can give you a foolproof blueprint to finding your work centric “other half,” we can offer some hard learned lessons that we’ve accumulated.
#Caveat2 Proceed with sky high ambitions, but very terrestrial quality bars.
You might get this right your first time, or you might not. The most important takeaway in this territory is – if you must learn the hard way – learn the lesson only once. Your mistake might have been expensive, but it will be an investment into your future. Once you have built something, you can build it again – only this time around you will be that much wiser.
#Caveat3 Just because someone looks like they are on top of their game, does NOT mean they are.
While this sounds like Captain Obvious, it is unnerving to realize how much we are influenced by those around us. Whether or not you have a preexisting relationship with a person, be careful to choose a business partner who can answer the hard questions. Have they started a company before? If so, what went wrong / right? Are they committed to a collective team goal, or an individual one? Are they the kind of person you are willing to spent up to 7+ years with in the trenches? Are they asking for everything up front, or are they asking for the opportunity to earn it with you?
Remember – partnerships are the relationships of professions. Look for someone who complements you – work wise, not flattery wise. The last thing you need is someone who bobble heads “yes” to your every whim. You need a counterpart who will make you better, stronger, leaner, and wiser.
#Caveat4 NEVER NEVER NEVER listen to – much less partner with – someone who tells you you’re too young (old / the wrong race / ethnicity / gender etc) to do something.
While there is such a thing as being too inexperienced, this allegation is a major difference from being too young. Fortunately, we are in the era where our D.O.B. matters less than it used to. However, there remains a residual prejudice that age is a reflection of competence.
It could not be farther from the truth.
I was fortunate to start my career in entertainment, where youth is viewed as an asset. Working in an agency when I was 16, coworkers assumed I was in my mid twenties. Lobbying for filming incentives at 17, everyone in the room assumed I was in my 30’s. Serving as an Associate Producer at Microsoft at 20, everyone assumed I was a decade older. Working with particular casting parties, I heard them share they were unwilling to work with partners unless they were in their 30’s, minimum. I was 21.
These experiences occur to all of us, from every end of the spectrum. The best thing to remember in these scenarios is that you and only you will determine your future. Whether you are 9 or 90, your career is up to you.
Last but not least.
#Caveat5 In business as in love, find someone who appreciates, challenges, inspires, and supports you.
If you have a business lesson you want to share and are willing to speak about it, check out FUN events! Think of it like TED with more alcohol and less pomp.