I’m often told that starting a business with someone is like getting married to them. Some of the most successful businesses have been built on partnerships – just look at Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Everyone has to have their ‘soulmate’ that they have to work with.
Finding a business partner is hard. Real hard. It’s like dating – there’s no science to it (no matter how much eHarmony says otherwise). You need to find someone that you can be honest with, can have fun with, can nuture and grow a company with. After all, you have to ride the good times, the bad times and the incredibly ugly times with them – and you’ve got to make sure that they’re with you all the way. Sometimes it’s difficult to make it work. I often joke that being in StartupCafe is more complicated than being married because there’s only ‘the other half’ to deal with in a marriage, whereas there are three other people in the business! (I don’t know how polygamists do it – I once met someone who had 4 boyfriends on the go, plus a full time job. After that conversation, I was more impressed by her time management and organisational skills than the situation!)
Joking aside, as someone who’s about to embark on another adventure and startup, I, like many other entrepreneurs, recognise how difficult it is to find a business partner. Like all the hopeless romantics who write to Agony Aunt columns everywhere – how do you find the perfect (business) partner? Should we be expecting a ‘love at first sight’ moment? Or is it better for things to begin after friendship?
I don’t have any answers – in fact, I’m still searching and trying to understand. However, I do have some guesses as to what factors matter.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s never any good or bad people to work with, just bad partnerships. People are never good or bad. That’s just too black and white for me. It’s about compatibility. How well you function together. This applies everywhere. But after time, you learn to look out for certain characteristics which you start to value as important. A checklist if you will. For instance, the first thing I look for in a flatmate is their level of acceptable cleanliness and how close it is to mine. Everything else is second.
I find that personality comes into play (and for anyone that hasn’t done a Myers-Briggs test, I’d suggest it for a remarkable tool of self awareness). This often amuses me, because I find myself chuckling at the thought of asking all my potential business partners to fill in a personality test and share the results before we could sign the incorporation document!
Lastly (for now at least), I’ve come to the conclusion that just like any partnership, that you can’t force anyone to commit until they’re ready to. Asking someone to devote a large chunk of their time and energy to a startup is just like proposing. Sometimes, you start out and its fun. Then it becomes a bit more serious, and sometimes, it just feels naturally ‘right’. Other times, within 30mins, both of you just ‘know’. But the emphasis here is on the feeling. Making the ‘marriage demand’ to your partner just leads to bad things happening. (This bit of insight, I credit to my two good friends Ianthe and Alex – who were talking about their own personal relationships.)
So for now, I’ll keep on searching and learning.