Month: August 2010

Two Heads are Better than One – 10 pros of having a business partner


The photo above is me with my own business partner, Paul McElvaney.  It was taken a couple of summers ago & we’re sitting on top of the world – ok – it’s the Giant’s Causeway but it feels like the top of the world when you’re there…it’s a much better photo of Paul than it is of me but I love it nevertheless because we’re both laughing and the sun’s out.

This week we were over at Belfast’s Start VI talking to some early stage entrepreneurs about their plans for their new businesses.  This got me thinking about the whole business partner debate – to have or have not – so here are my thoughts on this subject:

1.       If you’re dreaming big with your start-up you should think about finding a business partner – unless you already have proof that you’re superhuman.  Our business, Learning Pool, has grown from nothing to 50 people and £3.5m turnover in 4 years.  That’s a lot of work whichever way you look at it.

2.       Partners should have complementary business skills – it’s the 2 + 2 = 5 effect.  In our case, Paul’s far more technical than me & has a project management background whereas I come from an accountancy & legal background.  Having said that – both of us are immersed in our chosen sector and we can both sell – that bit’s important.

3.       Two people means you have more ideas for brainstorming and (at least) two views on opportunities and risks; you can also learn a lot from each other.

4.       If there are two of you, chances are you have a much bigger network than one person and you just know more stuff and have more experience to draw on between you – so you can make better decisions than a person trying to figure it out on their own.  There are many decisions that Paul & I make every day on our own but there’s also a lot that we decide upon jointly via a process of debate & brainstorming between us – it’s hard to understand unless you try it…and you have to be prepared to not always get your own way.

5.       It makes the business more “formal” in those early days – if you were by yourself chances are you wouldn’t bother with monthly management accounts or you’d be more lax over expenses or you wouldn’t write so much down.  This early discipline stands you in good stead when you start to scale.

6.       Two people can cover a helluva lot more ground – business requires a lot of travel, pitching, attendance at events, socialising, networking.  It also makes it easier to get away for a bit of a break.

7.       Your partner’s there for the bad times – when you don’t win a contract you’ve pitched hard for or when the bank says No – but also for the good times – and it’s great to have someone to share with.  A new business is like a rollercoaster ride and having a partner to bounce off & share stuff with & who picks you up when you’re down & vice versa flattens out some of those crazy peaks and troughs.

8.       Most entrepreneurs are control freaks so it can be hard working so closely with another person, especially at first.  They do say that you have to work at your business partnership like you would a marriage and that’s true.  You have to be prepared to be completely open and honest in a way that you will not be used to – not even with your family or your spouse/partner.  Your business partner will know more about your personal finances and even your personality traits than your close friends or family do.  You will have seen each other make unpalatable decisions and behave ruthlessly and you will have exposed that darker side of your nature to each other.  Once you’ve accepted this it is slightly comforting.

9.       There’s some practical reasons when you’re starting out – like having more working capital as there are two of you or having more places to get hold of start-up capital.

10.   Having a partner makes you more resilient and it makes you work harder – as you have someone else who’s opinion you care about to prove yourself to.

My own experience of this has been incredibly positive.  Paul & I work well together.  We both work hard and put an equal amount into our business in terms of effort and expertise – that’s important too – I don’t know how it would work if one partner felt short changed by the other but I guess it would be uncomfortable and unsustainable.  We have a lot of laughs along the way and there’s a great deal of healthy competitiveness and “sport”.  There have been some really bad days on the journey but there have also been some amazing highs and I wouldn’t change things for the world.  I’ve ended up with a friend that I would trust with my life without any hesitation.  And that’s a big deal.

I’ll leave you with a quote from John D Rockefeller “A friendship founded on business is a good deal better than a business founded on friendship”.  Bit of food for thought in there.  I look forward to your comments friends & readers.


Mark Nagurski, Derry’s own Martha Lane Fox – 10 things the two Digital Champions have in common

This week Mark Nagurski started his new role as Derry’s first Digital Champion.  There’s been a lot of interest in and around the appointment and it’s become a whole lot bigger & more prestigious since Derry’s win of the UK City of Culture 2013 competition.  “Digital Champion” is a job title we’d never heard of 5 years ago but it’s becoming increasingly popular.  Other job titles of a similar ilk and in the same type of space would be Brian Halligan’s appointment as “entrepreneur in residence” at MIT or the appointment of Lloyd Davis as “social artist in residence” at the University of London’s Centre for Creative Collaboration.

Mark’s remit is to spend the next two years promoting the burgeoning creative digital sector in the North West of Ireland.

Now I realise that Martha’s job as the UK’s Digital Champion is on a much bigger scale than Mark’s but I thought it would be a bit of fun to spot some similarities between them beyond their shared job title – so here goes:

1.       They are both internet entrepreneurs and have been deeply steeped in the internet and what it means for business and society forever

2.       Neither of them studied a technology subject at university – Martha studied Ancient & Modern History at Oxford and Mark studied International Relations at the LSE

3.       They were both born in the 1970s so they’re both still “young”

4.       They’ll both talk to anyone

5.       They both write extremely well & are articulate in conversation

6.       They love starting things and are serial entrepreneurs

7.       Neither of them have sisters

8.       They are both grafters and will work their backsides off for a cause they believe in

9.       They believe in themselves and their own abilities

10.   They know what they’re talking about and command respect from their audiences and peers.

Good luck in the new role Mark.  I for one am delighted with your appointment and I can’t wait to see the success and opportunity you’ll bring to Derry and the NW in the next couple of years.


A Room with a View…is it always worth it?

Rather unusually for someone that’s been on the planet as long as I have, I’m lucky enough to have never spent a single night in hospital.  It’s been an experience therefore to have spent the last 3 days at the bedside of a very sick relative in the quite odd Hopitaux du Pays du Mont-Blanc in the town of Sallanches near the French resort of Chamonix.  It’s not like I imagined hospitals to be.  It’s modern & very clean.  It’s quiet & eerily empty.  There are no wards, just rooms painted bright yellow with one or two people in them.  Every room has a stunning view – either out onto the Big Mountain itself or one of the other minor peaks.  Do people recover quicker when they’re in a room with a view?  Maybe.

Twice a day a black helicopter lands on the roof bringing in an emergency – either a holidaymaker that’s damaged themselves whilst indulging in one of the many, many extreme sports on offer in this part of the world – or transporting someone from one of the remote villages.  Yesterday we watched an elderly gentleman in his neatly buttoned overcoat walk from the helicopter.

I feel as though I’ve slipped into a parallel universe in only three days.  My day to day life at Learning Pool seems like a distant dream.  I’m either in the hospital feeling helpless or I’m outside reading Haruki Murakami’s surreal “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”, drinking coffee out of a machine and wondering why people that are sick enough to be in hospital think it’s a good idea to go outside & smoke, even when that means dragging their drips & tubes with them.

Human life – it’s a beautiful and fragile thing – we should remember that and try to be a bit nicer to each other for the short time we spend on earth.