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.