A very dear friend of mine, who has been much like a mentor to me, always used to tell me that partnerships are sinking ships. And after a few partnerships gone bad, I start to get his point.
That might be a bold assumption, but I have to say that even though history is full of successful partnerships, it’s not that easy to make one work, especially when friends and family are involved.
The problem is it’s really difficult to always say what you think, especially when the people involved are people you have a strong relationship with. It might be that you don’t want to hurt their feelings or you trust them because of how you feel about them and not because you should actually trust them. But in the end, it’s very easy to make a partnership go bad because you don’t want to ruin a friendship or snowball your family.
From my experience, the problem is one: when you start a new venture, it’s very tempting to go head-first into the day-to-day work needed to start your business without spending any time planning how the relationship between the partners should be handled.
It’s one of those cases where you find yourself saying: “Oh, we love each other, nothing could go wrong, and even if it’d ever happen, we’ll figure it out.” Basically, it all comes down to good faith — which is good in itself, but not when starting a new business — and laziness — because who wants to spend time managing this bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo when you have a new business to build?!
The only case in which I could see a partnership work is if all the partners have different skills, thus there’s no risk of overlapping.
In this case, it could be beneficial to the venture, because each one of the partners knows it’s field very well and can take the lead when it comes the time to make a decision.
Just make sure, it is clear that the work of each partner should be mostly related to it’s field of expertise.
You might still have issues when discussing matters related to the grand vision of your company, but for day to day tasks, it should be much easier.
Partner up at your peril
Business ventures with another person, be it a friend or a partner, don’t always work out. If this is the case, successful entrepreneurs know when to part ways.
But just because you decide to go in another direction doesn’t mean things have to end badly, especially with a friend, says Branson. Handle any problems quickly and head-on, and end the relationship as amicably as possible.
Richard Branson, Like A Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School
So feel free to get into a partnership, but be sure to write down who has to do what, who’s responsible for what and who reports to who. And not just talk about it, write it down and get everyone to sign it, especially if there are personal relationships involved!
And if things start going bad, dismantle the ship before it’s too late! Because in the end it’s easier to start a new business than it is to form new lifelong relationships…
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In my career, I started more than 10 businesses, some where great, others not so much and a couple of them failed hard. At 23 I was nominated by BusinessWeek as one of Europe's Best Young Entrepreneurs. It was and still is a great ride and I want to share everything that I learned with you.
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