Over the past 12 years, I have partnered with 15 different people including friends, family, my own wife and even perfect strangers. Getting into a partnership is easy, but when it doesn’t work out, the separation is very often really painful for everybody involved. In too many cases, the collaboration that started with enthusiasm ends up in a very long ego battle. When this happens with close friends or family, it’s leaves irreparable moral injuries.
Hope, enthusiasm, naivety or cupidity are some of the reasons why you forget to consider the worse case scenario while focusing exclusively on the best. This post is the first of a series on partnering from a personal point of view.
This is a mandatory criteria. Incompetent partners will drag you down, they will suck all your energy and will obviously make your work time a mental torture. In business, it’s obvious that competence should be your primary criteria in selecting a partner just like it is when selecting suppliers and employees. It’s very hard to identify incompetent partners early. It may take up to 6 months to discover that someone wasn’t who you expected, but sometimes you can avoid that step by being very cautious upfront.
- Experience in your field: while a combination of complementary skills is certainly what you should look for, be sure to hire someone with valuable experience in your field. If you are building software, partner with software specialists. There is nothing more frustrating than working with someone that doesn’t (want to) understand what you do.
- Reference checking: check them before you start, not after when it’s too late. Take their resume and start to call at least the 3 last references. Verify every piece of information you get. People that have worked with them will tell you how they were great. Sometimes not. Take this as a hint. Most professionals will prefer to provide you with zero feedback rather than bad feedback.
- Test before engagement: much like dating in a relationship. You don’t get married after the few first meetings. Start with a small project and be sure to define objectives and compare them with the results. Don’t engage yourself until you have no remaining doubts.
- Valence effect: also known as the positive outcome bias, is the tendency we all have to overestimate the probability of a favorable outcome in a given situation. Be careful to watch every signal during your discussions: positive and negative. Be sure to analyze them with critical thinking.
Competence is not enough. You must pick someone likable, who will make your work time pleasant. Creating a company is stressful sometimes and you don’t want to add unnecessary annoyance.
- Similar work style: too much difference in work style may introduce resentment later. Especially if the partner is unable to accept that people are all different and don’t necessarily share the same values.
- Personality compatibility: some people just don’t match. The more you know yourself, the easier it is to determine what type of person you are likely to fit well with. If you are not there yet, try to compare the partner to someone you know already. Visualize a partnership with that person. Will it work in the long term?
- Emotionally intelligent: someone unable to control his emotions will likely cause trouble in the relationship. People with low emotional intelligence will tend to be generally aggressive, criticize individuals instead of ideas or actions, and are, most of the time, self centered.
The right motivation is essential. If you seek an objective for the wrong reason, it may affect the quality of your outcome negatively.
- Necessity: do you really need a partner? Are you just looking for someone to do the things you don’t want to do? Are you partnering with someone only because you need his money to survive? Both of you should seek a partnership for the right reason: to empower your company. If it’s just for money, consider an investor instead or a loan.
- Shared vision: one of the most common reason for conflict between partners is a difference of opinion on company strategy & vision. A boat can only go in one direction at a time. That point should be one of the first topics of discussion.
- Entrepreneurship: be sure to evaluate his entrepreneurial ability. Being very competent as an employee or consultant is not a guarantee that he will perform well in a start-up environment. Starting a company requires a specific mindset. A real entrepreneur is motivated by the process of building the business (intrinsic motivation). Entrepreneurs only motivated by money or status (extrinsic motivation) are less likely to get through the first difficulties.
Competence, compatibility and motivation are the three main components of my partner selection checklist. Competence is obviously mandatory and should never be negotiable. Compatibility should also be taken seriously as conflicts are a serious factor in business failures. Finally, motivation is what will keep you climbing till you reach the top of the mountain. Be sure to make sure that you are roped up to the right people.