How to Coexist With a Business Partner to Build an Empire
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Thinking about the business partnership phenomenon, I remembered the movie The Mighty.
The story centers on two teenagers: Max, a silent and clumsy giant, and Kevin, nicknamed “Freak,” a small, clever boy who moved on crutches due to an illness. They were constantly mocked and bullied at school. After another incident, the boys decided to fight back against their classmates by uniting into a giant knight. Climbing onto Max’s shoulders, Kevin became the mastermind behind which the stocky giant smashed the attackers.
Moving from the literal to the metaphorical, The Mighty remains one of my most essential collaboration films. It reveals the most crucial part of the partnership, which I call the multiplication of talents. Let’s break this down and a few more essentials of effectively managing a business partnership.
Related: Everything You Need to Know About Business Partnerships
1. Distribute responsibilities
If two people manage the company, and both have the same vision of plans for development or getting out of this or that situation, it makes no sense. Each of you shouldn’t have to do everything — you should concentrate on your primary skills.
Another managing partner of our holding and I have different competencies. For example, I am an economist by profession. I look for investors and bring companies to new markets. I mostly lead our projects in Europe and Asia because I have worked in these markets for more than 10 years.
On the other hand, my business partner deals with strategic planning. He lives in the U.S. and mostly manages our projects there. He is a computer systems engineer by profession, which is one reason his favorite projects are technology-based.
What do we get from such a division of responsibilities? First, we are building a diversified holding of multi-vector assets, thanks to which the business is becoming more and more sustainable. Second, this is a more convenient way to manage a team: Employees at all levels understand who to go to with which question. And third, this is how we maintain the proper distance and do not micromanage or excessively control each other. Development requires space, so we give it to each other.
Our cooperation is built on the “do what works best” principle. And it does work: The holding grows from year to year.
Related: 8 Critical Considerations for Choosing the Right Business Partner
2. Don’t “hog the blanket”
A business partnership somewhat resembles a marital relationship. It is important for partners to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how they will deal with them.
If both partners are unable to let go of control or admit their weaknesses, they will almost 100% “hog the blanket” from each other — that is, they compete to take over most of the powers without taking into account the interests of the partner. But in competition, partners weaken each other and the joint project.
The signals partners give to employees, especially the CEO, are very important. C-level managers perceive the struggle between founders as a standard of relations in the company and a model of managing subordinates. If you see that your employees lack independence in decision-making, it is often due to the example they follow.
The ideal version of a business relationship is that your partner is equal in strength and scale of personality and differs in habits and ideas. Based on our partnership experience, I know that sometimes the air between you can get electrified, but the best solutions are born in such friction.
Related: 3 Steps to Creating Powerful Business Partnerships
3. Give your partner the right to make a mistake
“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan,” said John F. Kennedy. In a business relationship, partners must be responsible for each other’s decisions. If they blame each other for bad decisions, they will not last long together. Failures should be a reason to jointly review the strategy and work on mistakes.
Punctures and unsuccessful investments are constant companions of entrepreneurs. About two dozen startups that my partner and I invested in burned down. If we quarreled after every failure, we would not have built a large international business.
It takes time to develop the right attitude toward failure. We used to fight for every startup, but we have become more pragmatic with time. If quarterly reports do not match, market indicators have fallen, and there are no conscious growth forecasts — we decide to shut down such a business.
Related: The 4 Key Tenets of Every Successful Partnership
4. Enjoy your collaboration
Partners can be an effective team and make good money together. But it is equally important how they feel in the process and this relationship.
The satisfaction of working together is the glue of partnerships. Admiration for a partner’s talents and the pleasure of cooperation can save a business even in hard times. The ability to enjoy signals security and therefore the ability to trust. Trust is built through mutual support in upheavals, sincerity, and attentiveness to the person you are doing business with.
You should be able to have fun together. I have been very lucky with my partner because it is interesting to discuss new books and research with him and debate the vector of development of our projects. And since we argue quite often, it is crucial that the shared emotional ground is solid.
All the nuances of partner interaction are directly reflected in the business. There is a lot of personal stuff in a productive business partnership, and emotional comfort weighs no less than the number of deals or the value of common assets. At the same time, mature partnerships are not a gift from heaven but daily joint work. I hope the principles I have shared will help you make this work easier and more fun.