Business partnerships and marriages have many things in common--only the failure rate in business is much higher at a whopping 80%! I've helped many co-founders resolve conflicts, but many more through a break up. It's not pretty. In most cases both parties end up hurt, broke, and angry.

In the face of this news, how do you find the right person to call your partner? And what's the formula that makes a business partnership work? These co-founders have it figured it out.

Geoff Cook and Dimitri Jeurissen, Founding Partners of  Base Design

Dimitri Jeurissen met Geoff Cook in the early 90's when he accompanied his parents, on a business trip to Brussels. They became fast friends and, later, when Cook traveled back to Brussels on business he stayed with Jeurissen.  Both men quickly realized that the time was right for them to move forward together in bringing Base to New York City.

Sixteen years later Cook says, "My criteria for partnering, as well as hiring, is still very much based on what governed my decision to team up with Jeurissen." Cook asks himself these simple questions before making a hiring or partnership decision:  "Is this someone I want to spend my days with, who is complimentary to me, and will push me as much as I push him, or her?" If his answer is yes, then he knows that it's a good start toward building something  meaningful."

Tyler Peterson and Olivier Peyre, Co-Founders of Kettle.  

"I was hired by Olivier back when he was establishing the New York office of our previous employer," says Peterson.  "And I'm pretty sure he was technically my boss at that time." But that soon changed.

The two worked closely together on a number of websites and campaigns and saw these projects as an opportunity to explore new ways of approaching product development. "The success of these experiments validated our approach, and after tinkering with the  idea for a bit, we decided it was time to start our own agency," says Peterson."

Peterson credits their success to having shared goals and priorities, yet differing in many ways. He has these words of advice for anyone who is considering a partnership: "You should certainly strive to find someone whose skills and perspective complement your own, all the while challenging you, pushing you well past your comfort zone."

Elizabeth Aris and Sol Trujillo, business partners at MOSH., founded by Aris in 2015

Aris began working with Trujillo in 2006. Trujillo was the CEO of Telstra, the largest telecommunications and media company in Australia. Years later, impressed by Trujillo's track record as a technology innovator, Aris took the concept of her new company, MOSH. to him. Inspired by Trujillo's encouragement and feedback Aris left her position as the CMO for Asia-Pacific at Alcatel-Lucent in 2015, as well as her home country, and moved to New York to launch her new digital platform. Trujillo not only invested in MOSH., but also serves as its Chairman.  

"Having someone you trust and are inspired by as you build a business is really important," says Aris. "If you are lucky enough to have a Sol in your career, then find a way work with them." Ari also cautions that it's not wise to wait to find a partner. "Get started and do what you can to move it forward," she says. "People will come along as your business progresses. Building a business is a journey and you never know whom you will meet along the way, but that's the exciting part!"

Don Smithmier and A.J. Meyer, co-founders of GoKart Labs 

These partners met in 1995 while raking leaves at their neighboring homes. They immediately clicked, but it took nearly 15 years to find an opportunity to work together. While developing the concept of GoKart Labs in 2009,  Smithmier knew that Meyer was the guy to build it with. 

"While we share a love for digital innovation and startups, we also see the world differently," says Smithmier. "Our individual experiences and perspectives create a healthy balance, but we both knew that success would require a lot more talent than just the two of us could bring."  Smithmier emphasizes that, while  the right co-founder can be critical at the outset, you're never done finding the next, right leader. "Whether its Ops, Marketing, Finance, or HR,  growth and success require having the right talent for the next stage of the journey. Always consider who you need to add next to make your team and business that much stronger," says Smithmier. 

Barney Robinson and Gerry Graf, at Barton F. Graf

Robinson and Graf barely knew one another, yet they quickly knew that they shared a common vision and became business partners. At the beginning it wasn't much fun. 

The two are very different, in personality and working style.  "Trying to figure each other out while getting a business off the ground was stressful, " says Robinson. Over time, however; their differences have proven to be one of the most valuable ingredients in their success. "It means all of our work is rigorously interrogated and stress-tested before it leaves the building," Robinson says.

Robinson acknowledges that finding the right partner is critical, but the definition of right may be very different from what you think.

"What your business needs to succeed is more important than what you might like your day-to-day work life to be like," he says. "People whose skills complement yours are more important than people whose styles and personalities replicate yours. If you share a vision for the end goal of the business and you respect one another, you can figure everything else out."

Published on: Feb 8, 2016
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