The most important relationship you will make in your career
The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What do you look for in the ideal business partner? is written by Nirav Tolia, CEO of Nextdoor.
Legendary collegiate coach John Wooden once said “the key ingredient to stardom is the team.” This seems obvious, but it’s important to restate that winning in business (and life) is all about finding the right partners and together building the best team. As a result, choosing the right business partners is one of the most important things you will do in your career. These people will play a defining role in the success and enjoyment you experience along the way.
When I find great business partners, I make it a priority to stay connected to them. I’m fortunate to have worked with most of Nextdoor’s management team and board for over a decade or more, which is relatively unusual in Silicon Valley. I can’t imagine working without these folks, much less building a successful organization. All of them share the three attributes I consider most critical when choosing great business partners: they are people I like, respect, and trust.
Let’s start with likability. The journey of building a company is long and hard, so you better find people you enjoy being around and who provide positive energy. Would you want to spend time with this person even if you weren’t working together? You aren’t going to get along with this person all the time, but it should be a core component of your relationship.
One of our co-founders, Prakash Janakiraman, has a contagious optimism that fuels our entire team. During the early days of our company, we were all stretched thin and working exceptionally long hours, but Prakash always knew when to crack the right joke to keep people from getting too stressed. With a combination of wit, enthusiasm and warmth, Prakash made the tough times tolerable and the good times even more enjoyable.
You should also be looking for people that have the skills and expertise that you respect. These are people that are truly exceptional at their jobs, and inspire others to be better. I’ve known Rich Barton, a board member of Nextdoor, since 1999. He is one of a few people (along with Steve Jobs and Elon Musk) who has founded and led two different multi-billion dollar companies. He is the CEO that I aspire to be.
Similarly, I’ve worked with Bill Gurley of Benchmark, another board member, for over 16 years. Bill is the most brilliant person I know and his strategic prowess is unmatched. When we were pivoting away from our failed venture – Fanbase — there were several different company ideas we considered pursuing. Bill knew immediately that Nextdoor held the most promise and argued his position with great conviction. Thankfully, it appears that he was — as he usually is — right.
The last attribute is perhaps the most important, yet trust is only built slowly and over time. I’ve worked with co-founder Sarah Leary for over 16 years and trust her completely. In college, Sarah was an All-American lacrosse goalie. When you are the goalie, your team trusts you to always be the last line of defense. This is the same way I see Sarah as a business partner. I can always count on her to get the job done, put the interests of the company first and support the people around her.
I am thankful every day to work with Prakash, Rich, Bill and Sarah. They make the highs higher and the lows bearable. They have helped us achieve our goals, though we are just getting started. They have made me a better CEO and a happier person. When you find these types of people, hold onto them. I certainly have. Invest in these relationships and you have a chance to be rewarded not just with business success, but also lifelong friends.