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The important lesson every business founder still needs to learn

September 24, 2015, 5:28 PM UTC
Courtesy of Bitium

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 Scott Kriz and Erik Gustavson, CEO and CTO of Bitium.

As business founders, we’re always fascinated by the how-we-got-here stories. And while much of ours may seem standard or commonplace, it has its own unique arcs.

We actually went to high school together, and while it was a small New England school — just 250 students — we didn’t know each other that well. But a mutual friend put us in touch more than a decade later after hearing that one of us was on the hunt for a new career opportunity while the other had the perfect role open up. We connected instantly, and our shared history enabled us to establish trust right off the bat.

After five years of working together at two different companies, we founded Bitium in 2012. Here’s what we’ve learned about being good business partners:

Have mutual respect and trust
It can be extremely time consuming to have to monitor and check up on your business partner, so it’s important to find someone you can trust. We both have the best interest of our company and ourselves in mind, so we make decisions and communicate those choices effectively. As Ben Horowitz famously wrote, ”In any human interaction, the required amount of communication is inversely proportional to the level of trust.”

See also: The lesson every entrepreneur still needs to learn from the Great Recession

Find collaborative, complementary alliance
Product and technology: They go hand in hand, just like peanut butter and jelly or steak and red wine. The relationship of product and tech is actually quite analogous to what you should look for in business partners. It’s incredibly important to have a business partner whose talents and expertise are complementary to your own. We were able to work together for five years in different product and technology roles at different companies, which allowed us to learn each other’s leadership and management styles before deciding to go into business together.

Embrace natural division of labor and expertise
Some people are extroverts and others prefer to be behind the curtain. While we’re both introverts, one of us had the desire to serve as a technical co-founder and the other had the drive to rally and lead the team as CEO.

Given our history and backgrounds, we are interested in what the other does, so we aren’t working in complete siloes. We’re able to work simultaneously to move the company forward without having to question each other. Even better, while we both have an affinity for one area of the business, we respect and can appreciate what the other is doing and provide concrete advice when needed.

Not every business partner relationship is the same, but each has its own secret sauce. The key factor across all successful business partnerships is the same agreed-upon values. If you feel yourself needing to fight to make your point, interfering with what your partner is doing, or unable to let your partner run with things, then you don’t have a partnership at all.


Read all responses to the Leadership Insider question: What do you look for in the ideal business partner?

The one mistake every company makes by Sheeroy Desai, CEO and co-founder of Gild.

The real reason 65% of startups fail by Alicia Navarro, CEO of Skimlinks.

Why you keep picking the wrong business partner by Tom Gimbel, CEO of the LaSalle Network.

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.