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 by Alicia Navarro, CEO of Skimlinks.
A business partner is one of the most important relationships you will ever have — the fate of your business depends on it. According to research by Noam Wasserman, Harvard Business School professor and author of The Founder’s Dilemmas, 65% of startups fail due to problems within management teams.
Similar to romantic relationships, there is no universally ideal business partner. Every entrepreneur and every company is different. You of course want someone who is smart and hardworking, but beyond that, the ideal business partner is someone who is uniquely compatible to you.
My business partner, Joe Stepniewski, is someone I’ve known for 18 years. We went to university together and have been close ever since. We even moved to the U.K. from Sydney at the same time and lived together in London for many years.
Through ups and downs, our shared experiences created a strong bond. We trust each other, and at this point, are like family. We’ve run Skimlinks together for the past eight years, and the foundation of friendship means we never have to tiptoe around issues. We can be open and direct while knowing that no matter what, we can get through anything as a team. We know we’ll forgive each other, if needed, and will always be there to offer support. Plus, we enjoy spending time together.
A decades-long friendship is by no means a prerequisite when searching for a business partner, but my own experience has taught me the importance of finding someone who is truly your counterpart.
To me, a great business partner is someone who is similar enough to you that you’re able to understand each other. You have a similar frame of reference and share the same vision. You don’t have to constantly explain your way of thinking or doing and can take communication shortcuts. Perhaps most importantly, you are equally committed to the journey — and to achieving your goals.
That said, an optimal business partner is not someone who is exactly like you. You want to be a whole that is greater than the sum of your parts, which can only happen when you both have incrementally different strengths — rather than overlapping. If you are both big-picture creative types, the nitty-gritty details may never get taken care of. If you both like taking the lead all the time, conflict and bitterness may ensue. Compatibility often hinges on having complementary personalities and skill sets. A partner who is sufficiently different from you can be the yin to your yang. A partner who naturally has highs and lows at different times than you is likely to balance you out and provide more stability and strength for the rest of your team.
Finding your ideal business partner requires a strong sense of self-awareness. You have to know your own strengths and weaknesses, preferences, pet peeves and goals before you can know what to look for in a partner. You have to consider not only what you need, but also what your partner needs, to be the best you both can be. You have to be ruthlessly honest with yourself about your shortcomings so you can find a partner who is the right match for you. I’m grateful to have found that partner and can gladly say that thanks to Joe by my side, we’ve been able to build a business — and a friendship — that we can both be proud of.
Read all responses to the Leadership Insider question: What do you look for in the ideal business partner?
Why friends make terrible business partners by Todd McKinnon, CEO of Okta.
What you need to know before choosing a business partner by Clark Valberg, CEO of InVision.
Never pick a business partner based on their skills alone by Pau Sabria co-founder of Olapic.
Business lessons from Iraq: How to create a dynamic team by Chris Fussell, chief growth officer at McChrystal Group.
Dolby CMO: What Star Wars taught me about finding business partners by Bob Borchers, senior vice president and CMO at Dolby Laboratories.
The quickest way to sabotage your new business by Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge.
How to avoid picking the wrong business partner by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.
3 signs you need to ditch your business partner by William Craig, founder and president of WebpageFX.
The most important relationship you will make in your career by Nirav Tolia, CEO of Nextdoor.