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This is what entrepreneurs can do to be more like Google’s Page and Brin

September 27, 2015, 2:00 PM UTC
Photograph by Peter Holst

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 Shahrzad Rafati, founder and CEO of BroadbandTV.

I’m often asked questions about how to find the right investor or how to build an effective team, but despite so many dynamic duos out there building world-changing businesses, it’s quite rare that I’m asked how to choose a good partner. Finding a Page to our Brin or a Wozniak to our Jobs isn’t easy, especially since a partnership requires much more than just friendship or shared objectives. It ultimately comes down to deciding whether you value a partner who’s complementary or one who’s compatible.

A complementary partner balances your unique mix of strengths and faults, whereas a compatible partner more closely resembles your own ideologies, skillsets and perspectives. There is a big difference between the two, and in most situations, a complementary business partner will help you take your ideas and objectives further.

Looking at some of the more prominent partnerships in the tech space, for example, there is very rarely true compatibility between both sides of an equation. At their most basic level, we’re able to boil down these success stories — like Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) — to a balancing of strengths and weaknesses between founding partners.

See also: Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec won’t invest in this type of company

Where one side of an equation might bring a groundbreaking solution without the skills to market it, the other might know exactly how to communicate a solution’s value without much technical understanding. When the right mix happens, it’s almost symbiotic, and in rare cases, leads to an equation where “one plus one” is far more impactful than a pair.

Now if you think that finding that partner is difficult enough, there is also immense value in making sure that he or she doesn’t clash with your personality or your values. Much like finding an investor or hiring a new team member, culture fit is really a deciding factor in choosing the right match for your entrepreneurial endeavors. This is often the hardest obstacle to overcome, and it’s the reason why we’ve seen so many iconic pairs deteriorate over the years. But with the odds stacked against new businesses for a variety of reasons, it’s vital that you start out on the right foot with a partner who fits you.

In my experience working with my initial investor in my business (who ended up being, in many ways, a business partner), I’ve learned that the biggest element of that “fit” is a lot of ambition to carry forward when obstacles arise. The best way to avoid a big failure is learning from small ones, and ambition is the gritty personality trait that separates the most successful entrepreneurs from the crowd. If your partner doesn’t have it, no matter how compatible or complementary you may be, your equation might be left one failure short of a success.


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

The important lesson every business founder still needs to learn by Scott Kriz and Erik Gustavson, CEO and CTO of Bitium.

The lesson every entrepreneur still needs to learn from the Great Recession by Daniel Saks, co-CEO and co-founder of AppDirect.

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.