What makes for a good partnership? The answer can be hard to pin down. Some pairings that seem perfect on paper are anything but in practice, and some unlikely duos prove to be well-suited to work together. The truth is often that we don’t fully know the people we choose to work with until we’re working with them every day and by that time it can seem too late for a split, especially if you’re entangled in your business as cofounders. Or perhaps you don’t fully understand yourself and how you operate, or what you need from others to do your best work. Whatever the case, do not enter into a partnership without proper agreements, including what happens if there is a business divorce.
Whatever the reason, many choose to work alone rather than with a cofounder and partner, and while that is by no means a bad decision, it can deprive you of the benefits of working with a collaborator who might inspire you to greater outcomes, just as you might for them. Partnerships can be hard enough and planning for a possible split can take more effort than simply working as a solo founder, but finding the right person can prove worth it in the things you might accomplish together.
Finding that right person can be tricky, as you need to find the right balance of qualities within prospective partners. How do you know who the right person is, or the right type of person to look for?
As tempting as it might be to find someone who matches your own personality and temperament, your business is better served with a partner who brings a different perspective and is willing to challenge you on a regular basis, as you’re willing to challenge them. Agreeing on everything might seem like a sign of a perfect partnership, but if you simply wanted someone to agree with you and help with the work, you could have perhaps saved yourself the time and potential hassle of a cofounder and sought employees instead.
Another benefit that a partner can bring to the table is complimentary skills to your own. You’re not going to excel at every element of running a business, which is why it can prove useful to have someone who has talents in areas you simply don’t. It’s a well-worn trope in both life and fiction: the technical genius who isn’t good with people paired with the big-ideas man or woman who can gladhand and manage personalities brilliantly. It’s of course never that simple or disparate, but most pairings that work well don’t read too much on the other’s territory and don’t try to work too far outside of their talents.
The best partnerships do require some degree of tension. While it hopefully never spills over into outright disputes or fighting, professionally pushing back against one another — or at least their ideas — helps to ensure that every policy or project stands up to scrutiny, and is as good as it can be. Being challenged can be frustrating, but it’s necessary, and challenges are often best delivered by someone in the position of an equal. Employees are often placed in a position of being told to speak out against ideas they might not agree with but left to feel that they can’t actually do so in practice. It’s hard to be the dissenting voice, particularly if an idea is coming from the top; having someone who can offer critiques from a position of authority fills a necessary function in any business.
As much as anything, having a partner gives you someone to commiserate with on the challenges of running a business. It’s a tough job, and the only people who can truly understand the burden are those who are in the same position. You don’t want to share your doubts or concerns or fears with your employees, and you might not want to take those things home to your family either. And, while it might not account for much in the balance sheets or in the work itself, having someone to talk to and confide in demonstrates the value a partnership can bring to each party.
Partnerships can be challenging, but that’s often the point; just because we decided to start a business doesn’t mean we suddenly became infallible. All of us need people who make us better, help along the way, and hold us to account when necessary. By choosing to work with a cofounder or collaborator, we’re helping both ourselves and our businesses be the best versions of themselves — provided that we choose the right partner. #onwards.