When we started Launchpad, most people we spoke with agreed on one thing...it would never work. It wasn't that they didn't believe in our vision or how we were executing it. No, what raised eyebrows was the fact that we were equal partners, all the way down to sharing the title of President. Many people thought that without a single decision maker, one person who could make the hard calls when consensus was lacking, we'd be doomed to failure.
Today, as we approach our eighth year, I am happy to announce that we've proven those skeptics wrong.
The world is full of advice on how to maintain a great marriage, but less attention is paid to maintaining a great business partnership, one that remains alive and thriving over the long-term. During the years we've spent running the agency together, David and I learned a few important things about how to make an equal partnership not only work, but thrive.
Share a vision
Just like a marriage, you each may have very different ways of working, but it's crucial that from the beginning, you share a common vision of what you're trying to create and basic understanding of how you'll get there. David and I are quite literally The Odd Couple, and we approach things in very different ways. But because we have a shared view of what success looks and feels like, we're able to use those differences in very positive and complimentary ways, rather than letting them tear us apart.
Early on, while bootstrapping the business out of my house, we both realized the value of constant collaboration. Thanks to our consistent growth, we've moved the agency several times since those start-up days, and one of the first requirements of every new space was having one single office suitable for both of us to work in. We share an office by design. It ensures that we're always aware of what's going on throughout the agency, that we're each attuned to the pressures the other is facing, and that we're constantly communicating and collaborating.
We're all human. Some days suck. Occasionally, the stress gets the better of us and we both, at times, end up venting it out upon each other. A major part of maintaining a great long-term partnership is understanding your partner's stress level, and realizing that the "venting out" is not at all personal, but a normal response to the pressures of running a company. It's during these times that it's best to check your ego at the door and avoid throwing wood on the fire; instead, step back for a while to let cooler heads prevail.
We agreed early on that while neither of us would have a controlling interest, there would always be a single decision maker, and that was the person whose answer was "no." Our approach was simple: we knew we made better decisions together, and if one partner wanted to do something but couldn't convince the other, then it was probably not the right thing to do. I won't say this has never resulted in some ruffled feathers, but strict adherence to this rule has prevented us from making what might have turned out to be mistakes, and it's prevented certain disagreements from snowballing into major long-term relationship issues.
Get away from "the kids"
Let's face it, a day in the office for the leader of any large organization is for the most part an exercise in triage. Everyone is demanding a piece of your time, and it's very easy to see how partners can lose their connection, stop communicating and drift apart over time. As I said earlier, a good partnership is much like a strong marriage; they both require work and time to reconnect. Every few months, we get away from the office for several days. While the day-to-day tasks of the business still occupy much of our focus, we are also able to talk about bigger-picture issues, to align our vision and to energize the core of our friendship; the core that led to our partnership in the first place.
I've seen several partnerships collapse, ultimately undone by people whose combined skills made a business work, but as individuals they failed to consider the points I've made above. As we've grown, maintaining our relationship has always been a major part of our focus. We've even been able to add a third partner to the mix. We were very careful to make sure that he was both amazingly talented and someone whom we strongly felt would embrace these same core values of partnership.
Plan for the worst when things are the best
We all know that sometimes the best of intentions don't work out as planned, and the time to discuss how or when to separate is when both sides are still on the same page. Fairness looks very different when people have conflicting agendas and emotions are running high. Think through all the things that can go wrong. Talk about them, even laugh about them, but eventually agree on how you would navigate through them if they occurred and incorporate this into your operating agreement. Then, do everything else above to make sure you'll never have to use those plans.