What To Look For In a Business Partner

Published on: February 23, 2009

What to look for in a business partnerSometimes it is worth examining your “scars” to figure out what you could have done to avoid getting hurt in the first place.  I have been part of two ventures that failed and several that have been great successes, and both types of experiences have made me a better business person.  However, I do sometimes wish I had known some things I know now earlier in my career.

Business partnerships are highly personal. Not everyone has good chemistry, and considering we tend to spend more time at work than at home, compatibility between business partners is very important. So, here is my list of the top character features of the best people I worked with in my short 12-year career (I learned from my scars, and I hope it prevents future injuries for some you):

1. Humility. “All show, no go” need not apply. Someone’s past title means nothing. If you think “fake it ’till you make it” is a great idea, I want nothing to do with you. If your partner insists on a facade of expensive suits, flashy cars, expensive dinner bills, or other poseur behavior to look bigger/better than they are, one must question the prudency of such expenses. Clients are not stupid and they will eventually see behind the mask. Have you ever seen what a wet parrot looks like? Next time you are considering a business partnership, make sure there is some muscle behind those feathers.

2. No secrets. A partnership is like a marriage.  If there are secrets between the partners, then the partnership is doomed to fail. Full “confessions” from everyone is a good thing. I would go further and say that partners should hire background check company and those reports should be available to all the partners.

3. Open mind. Everyone has stupid ideas sometimes. Partners should always have great dialog and not feel “attacked” when questions are asked.  In a good partnership, the questioning of your ideas should be treated as the ultimate sign of respect.

4. Determination without fixation. Yes, the dream you have to create some service/widget is great… but a straight road is rarely the best route.  A rigid plan could kill you. You have to think about your business as a snake. Snakes rarely dart directly at their prey, they scope out the area, work with the terrain, avoid dangers, and than wiggle their way until they have their dinner.

5. Ability to adapt and accept change. Don’t fight change, embrace it. Partners who get stuck in the “old good times” will drag you down.

6. Scar tissue. I am sorry, but if you lack experience, never failed miserably before (and admitted it), and never had the livelihood of others as your responsibility, you may want to go work for someone else and gain that experience.

7. Specialization in being a generalist with a mastery of at least several specializations. One-trick-ponies do just one thing – cost the other partners money.

8. Well controlled ego. Just because we anointed you with the title of CEO, doesn’t mean that washing dishes after you’ve had your lunch is not in your job description. Everyone must answer phones, cleans up after themselves, be “hands on”, and be the face of the company to the customer (see: If you are in a startup and have a title, you are not doing enough work…).

Lastly, I know this is not P.C., but for myself, I have learned that I work the best with partners who have kids or are in a long-term relationship. Something about having responsibility at home prevents them from being one of those yahoos who just want to jump out of the plane without checking if they have a back-up parachute.