I was young. I was reckless. I glided out of the Bank with my new business partner feeling elated. And a wee bit queasy too. I ignored the uneasy swooning in my gut. And boy, did that come back to bite me.
That was ten years ago. Enough time has lapsed to gain clarity. Sure, I'd do things differently if I could teleport back to 2009 and here are three principles I'd abide by:
Surely Share Risk and Reward
Business is inherently risky. Startups are approaching zero existence every single day. The actions we take convert into the gains we make or losses we suffer. Although it may initially feel intoxicating -- it's prudent to plan for failure or an exit strategy from the get-go.
Our fashion business which consisted of designing, sourcing, buying, selling, managing, marketing, merchandising, accounting, as well bargaining, baiting, scheming, attracting, and a bunch of other 'ings' which are too exhausting to list -- was taxing, to say the least. The red flag stares me smack in the face now as I revisit the division of responsibilities with my then business partner. I was carrying much more weight in the duties department yet the profit share (as 50/50 partners) was the same. Perhaps I was more eager, energetic and optimistic -- and thus willing to do the lion's share. I certainly underestimated how my partner's other venture, of which I had no involvement, would in many ways cannibalize ours.
The implicit lessons learned is this: have a Give/Get conversation with your future business partner before jumping into bed. The Give means being absolutely, 100%, crystal clear on what each of you is willing and able to contribute to the business energy-wise. It also means making sure that each partner has the will to fulfill their responsibilities -- and in a proper and timely fashion. The Get is what you are realistically expecting in return. Here, erring on the conservative side is the name of the game. The Give/Get conversation isn't a one-time thing - it's ongoing and should take place at least every three months if not even more frequently.
Tip: find a really good mentor, or better still, add to that a personal advisory board to help you gain objectivity and be able to ask all the hard questions of yourself and of your partner(s). Bring that integrated perspective into all your Give/Get conversations.
Measure Momentum with Culture
I didn't appreciate that in order to truly sustain the business, I'd need to be much more discerning on how I directed my time and energy. I was not in sync with my partner, employees, suppliers, retailers, nor the environment.
On reflection, most of my frenzy was a mirror of my partner's character. Work, Work, Work, and more Work. It's just how he did business. Got a problem? Work. World ending? Work. For workaholics, the answer to everything is simply to work harder. My partner and I were manic and it reflected in our staff running around like headless chickens. I'm grateful for the experience as it has played a significant role in why today I'm able to work smarter and therefore work less.
Tip: Build and sustain a spirited culture first with crystal clear values that you live every day. Rather than scaling the business consider scaling your values. The right kind of growth will soon become self-evident.
Lightly Listen to Reason
There is nothing preventing you from finding equitable ways to coordinate or collaborate with your partner and not going into business together. In time, if things go well, it may make better sense to birth a joint venture. Right from the start I brashly made my business partner a 50% shareholder in my business.
Two years later the business was performing well, but I wasn't. I was hysterical, knee deep in busywork and at the end of my tether. My reasoning only went so far: have an opportunity to join forces with another entrepreneur, go for it! Have a supply and there's a demand, ship it! Now they want fox fur scarves?? Sure why not! It was this kind of any-benefit mindset that got me into hot water. Logic only goes so far. Very often it's your gut that knows best.
Today I welcome Mondays and in a weird way dread Fridays. I have those difficult conversations early and frequently. I practice radical candor and nip little problems in the bud before they fester and become big ones. I've fine-tuned my instincts and next time around I'm gonna go with my gut.
Tip: Listen to reason, trust your gut, and curb your emotions in all the right ways. By effect, you'll l approach choiceless awareness and not just do things right but also do the right thing.