business partner

How to Choose the Right Business Partner for Your Startup

Latest posts by John Meadows (see all)

Successfully taking a seed of an idea, turning it into a product or service, and forming a full-fledged company is based on a series of critical decisions. Who you choose to go on that ride with from the very beginning is not only a crucial decision for the business you’re hoping to build, but for your life during the (hopefully) many years that this journey spans. Your business partner can make or break you.

Of my two co-founders at Bowery Valuation, my co-CEO, Noah Isaacs, and I have known each other since we were kids; but it’s more than shared summer camp memories that make our partnership work. The partnership that Noah and I have, along with our third co-founder and CTO, Cesar Devers, set the foundation for our success to date (with hopefully even greater things still to come).

We closed our Series A funding round in January and have since doubled our headcount. We are on the verge of opening our second office and are on track to triple our revenue this year. We’ve learned a lot about what it takes to make this partnership work, which has been both challenging and unimaginably rewarding.

What to consider when selecting the right partner for your startup

Trust

When you’re building something from scratch, it cannot be overstated how important it is to trust the people building alongside you. Without trust, the relationship will falter, making it nearly impossible to create a sustainably successful company, let alone a positive culture for your employees.

Early on, we got a lot of pushback about operating as co-CEOs. Questions arose: Will decisions be bogged down? Who is responsible for what? Ultimately, who is accountable?

Our response has been that for the really big decisions, we’re able to explore multiple perspectives and really press each other’s ideas, which leads to far superior outcomes than those made in an echo chamber without checks and balances.

For those decisions that need an immediate response, when time for discussion isn’t possible, trust is again critical. We know we can make that call in the moment, whenever needed, with one another’s support.


Related: 12 Keys to Family Business Success

Complementary skills and expertise

Ideally, you find a partner who complements your skill set and brings something different to the table.

This has been one of the trickier aspects for Noah and me, as we are quite similar. We found that having a clear delineation of roles is important. He covers more of the quantitative aspects of our product and business, while I cover more of the qualitative.

Overlapping skills can also be helpful when we have two meetings that require a CEO. Having two of us allows our CEOs to literally be in two places at once. For example, one of us can meet with an investor while the other meets with a client. As we open new offices, one of us can be dealing with the new space while the other keeps things moving at headquarters.

Shared vision and shared values

You and your partner need to be aligned on all major decisions as it relates to your company. What kind of people do you want to hire? What kind of product do you want to build? What kind of culture do you want to cultivate?

To achieve this synergy, you need to like working with this person, as you’ll be spending more time with him or her than anyone else in your life. Communication is paramount between co-founders, and it takes a real relationship to achieve that.


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Being in the foxhole

It’s really easy to share in the good times, but it’s more important to be able to successfully navigate the tough times, of which there will be many.

This is a tricky area when working with a friend, which is why this person needs to be someone you can get through lows with and know that the friend aspect of your relationship will always be there, even when it may be difficult to see it in the moment. When you have disagreements at work, it’s really hard to separate that from the personal side of your relationship.

While it isn’t easy, it makes the low times far less lonely and the wins that much more special. Noah and I have been incredibly fortunate to have found a similar friendship with Cesar, and it’s impossible for us to imagine having partners that we only relate to on a business level.

There’s no blueprint to creating a successful company, and it is an incredibly tough road. But there are few things more important than finding the right people to ride with.

Originally published Sept. 6, 2019.

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