Starting A Business Is Like Getting Married

Starting A Business Is Like Getting Married

Much has been written on why starting a business with cofounders is like getting married. I think this is obvious. A business, much like a marriage, needs commitment and love to survive.

Earlier today, I read a theatrical story about an entrepreneur named Eric who lost his cofounder, was forced out of his company, and to make the story worse, his cofounder was the one who took Eric’s girlfriend! Don’t fret, the story ends with Eric kicking the crap out of his previous company. He even has a lovely wife and is living happily ever after. The story is compelling enough to make for a decent Hollywood B movie. You can read this uninspiring fairytale here: My co-founder took my company and my girlfriend.

As much as everyone love’s a good story, I’m more interested in sharing my thoughts on one of the points that the author made. The author writes:

And yes, a partnership is never really equal. There has to be someone who is somewhat more equal than others. There is nothing more devastating than a partnership were all the members have exactly equal rights and votes. This just does not work. Human society and all monkeys always have a single individual at the top and with all others, even though they are almost equal, being not quite equal.\ \ Any company where several people believe they should have final say or be consulted on final say is usually going to fail with a bunch of arguments and fights. The partnership may actually work very well in this mode so long no money I’d bring made, but as soon as there is cash, the clashes will start.\ \ There has to be a clear and obvious leader who has final say within every company. That’s just how the big apes roll.

I couldn’t disagree with this sentiment more. When you start a company with others, everyone involved should really start with equal shares. I don’t care if your best friend’s brother who is joining your startup isn’t into business development. I don’t care if your uncle can’t program. If you have others joining your startup, they should get equal shares. What’s that you say? It was your idea? I’m sure your mom is proud, but nobody else cares. Ideas are just a multiplier of execution.

When I joined my first business partners on a startup, we didn’t have equal shares. The business was a web site to promote local businesses and restaurants. There were three of us. Two of us had a disproportionally amount of shares compared to guy who had the original idea for the business. In the beginning, I didn’t care. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to kick ass. Over time, I began to feel resentment when I was expected to work as many hours and as hard as the guy who had the large share. Well, the rest of the story is history. Eventually our business collapsed.

Am I suggesting that you and your business partners should have equal shares and should take part in the work equally? Yes, you should have equal shares, but you’re delusional if you think that everyone will work equally. Much like a marriage, a business will split work 50-50, 60-40, 70-30, etc. Sometimes you’ll work harder, sometimes your business partners will work harder. Just like a successful marriage, a successful partnership in business requires everyone to possess the following traits.

Conflict Resolution\ Conflict will invariably happen. You must learn how to work as a team to accomplish your vision. When conflict occurs, it’s important for you to focus and resolve the conflict as quickly as possible. Don’t bury anything. It will inevitably come back and hurt the business if it’s not resolved as soon as possible.

Empathy\ As I said earlier, the work in your business will not always be split evenly amongst everyone. I think that’s a noble goal. I think that’s OK to shoot for that. But, you must be empathetic to your business partners’ life situations.

Commitment\ A business will be like riding a roller coaster. There are so many ups and downs. You have to be in it for the long haul. You have to be willing to be committed “for better” or “for worse.” Never never give up.

Communication\ You must always be willing to discuss your point of view. You must always be willing to talk. Much like a marriage, you shouldn’t always spend time doing business stuff. Go out and get a drink. Talk about your dreams. Talk about the football game on saturday. Communicate about anything and everything.

Candor\ When you communicate, you must be open, honest, and diplomatic. Being honest is liberating. Being candid allows good ideas to flow freely and sets bad ideas to rest.

I hate my partners. Corey & Brian are dicks. Just kidding, they are my friends, my business partners, and my brothers. We often joke about beating each other in those giant sumo suits, but at least we know we’ll be able to get a beer afterwards and BS about strategy or life.

What do you think are the necessary traits that partnerships should have?

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