I have co-founded and run two companies, each with a business partner. Neither time had I planned to do so, nor explored going solo versus a partnership. The first lasted 7-years with a female partner, and the second, with a male partner, for three years.
Company #1 was an entertainment marketing and PR agency. My then partner and I met professionally on several occasions. When I mentioned I wanted to leave my job, she proposed working together. With nothing to lose, I agreed but said we needed at least, a first ‘date.’ We met; discussed our company vision, shared stories, and that was it. Before making an official announcement, we were flooded with business, which lasted throughout the life of our company, with most clients being repeat or referral. Not bad for starting a company as an exit plan from a job!
We were, however, virtually strangers and had not taken the time to set up structures, procedures, or vet each other. Despite that, we naturally fell into a rhythm allowing our complimentary skills and compatible personalities to carry us. She was good with accounting and I was the pit-bull of accounts receivable. I loved the hunt and conquest of closing new business while she preferred the courtship. My then hyperthyroid propelled me to marathon pitching while her hypothyroid (total coincidence) made her modus operandi a slow process that always resulted in an impressive multi-page spread. We had huge fights, threw books at each other, but made up quickly, ending in laughter and discussing lunch options. This worked smoothly until it no longer did.
Company #2 was an experiential marketing agency and also unplanned. I met that partner while producing an inauguration weekend extravaganza in Washington, DC when President Obama was first elected. Being thrown into the middle of a stressful production, we worked seamlessly together and turned out a wildly successful event. When I was later hired for another project, I brought him on board. Again, we produced great results and the client re-hired us, but we needed to be a company rather than consultants. With a contract to gain and nothing to lose, we started a company.
Our skill set was complimentary, overlapping yet also with totally different areas of expertise, which allowed us to provide one-stop-shopping for clients. He saw the forest, I saw the trees. In production, he handled ‘back-of-house,’ and I, ‘front-of-house.’ It was easy, worked smoothly, until it didn’t.
With both companies, I went in starry-eyed, enthusiastic, trusting, and filled with adrenaline, ready to conquer the world. I didn’t ask basic questions, or follow a sensible self-protective business practice of signing agreements, issuing stocks, and setting up the business properly from ‘go.’ Thankfully, both times the 'divorce' was relatively painless, though not without issues. If insurmountable differences arise, you want a simple, clean split. A lesson I learned the hard way.
Obviously, going solo or in a partnership have pros and cons. If solo, prepare for feeling isolated and not being as productive with no-one to hold you accountable. If pursuing a partnership don’t let the adrenaline rush and excitement overshadow that it is a marriage. Court, date, go steady, and start at first base!
Things to consider when making the decision:
- Why do you want a partner?
- Why this person? What do they offer? Is it redundant to your skill set or enhancing?
- Are they in a relationship? I was single with no kids; my second partner was married with kids in college. There was an imbalance in our financial needs to manage during the slow ebbs.
- Are they a day or night person? Being on opposite clocks can be beneficial but also wreak havoc.
- Are they routinely punctual or perpetually late?
- What are their financial requirements? Do they have access to investors or other financial sources? Credit rating? If one has money, access to money or good credit score and the other doesn’t, problems will arise. Vet this well.
- Can you trust this person to stick it out through tough times? As with any relationship, trust is paramount.
- Are you both committed to the time required to run a business?
- Are your short and long-term financial and business goals and vision for the company compatible?
- How do you each deal with stress?
- How big is their network? Does it overlap or compliment yours?
- What is your exit strategy?