Our business would not perform at the level it does without my skills in what we do: event technology.
My event technology skills are below that of a chimpanzee drunk on fermented coconuts.
So I’m never tempted to interfere in the details of our core activities, because it would make them worse. It helps our business grow because it’s delegation or disaster.
My business partner Vicken and I were at a presentation last week, and I ran into one of our lovely readers named Eric. He asked us what it’s like managing a business partner relationship for twelve years.
Be Shit At Different Things
My response was: it really helps that we are both kinda shit at what the other one does. Vic is all over the stuff we do on a daily basis. He knows the technology, but not in a tech-fetishist way. He’s all about getting the right commercial results out of it.
Vic detests marketing, branding, proposal writing and that sort of show-pony work I enjoy. He would sooner wash his face in a deep fryer than deliver a speech. An evening of cocktail party chatter is his worst nightmare.
Vic agreed, and added: but we’re both equally focused on making the business profitable. True.
So apart from complementary skills, what do you look for in a business partner?
It’s an important question, because if you pick a bad one, you can finish up spending the last of your dwindling cash on lawyers for a fight that will ruin you for decades. It’s easy to go into business with people, like a Vegas wedding. Much harder to get out.
Do You Need Business Partners?
Big topic and an article by itself, but for me, having business partners is far and away the best thing about our business.
We have one in each state largely steering their own ship, and I still love them like family after a decade. Without them, our business would be the size of a kebab stand.
Solo owners can go a bit nuts. Nobody in the business will tell them what they really need to hear, because employees won’t do it. Paranoia takes hold, and solo owners never really seem to be enjoying themselves. Oh my God we are enjoying ourselves.
Business partners are the only people who get it like you do. They take the edge off your worst ideas. When stuff goes wrong, they make you feel better about it. The endless scheming and manoeuvring is outstanding entertainment, it’s like Fortnite for old boring people.
When you have a big win, it’s fist-pumping exhilaration all round. Solo business owners get a guarded, introspective version of that experience.
Here are some characteristics of great business partners.
1. Phone/Face-To-Face Builds Spider Senses
Though I have no day-to-day involvement in the businesses, we talk every other day.
We examine issues from all directions, and it’s really helpful. Usually they’re just looking for confirmation of what they’re already thinking, but it’s the subtle details that make the difference. Long-term it creates group wisdom that keeps you ahead of places where people don’t talk.
Everyone has a clear sense of how the others are feeling. You will not get this from Slack, emails, or particularly, written management reports.
In all of business history, nobody has ever been deep-down motivated by something that landed in an inbox.
Do enough phone conversations and you can tell what’s on people’s minds just by the way they say hello. So you can sort out issues right then and there, rather than being totally blindsided by someone resigning or whatever.
If you’d spoken, your spider senses would have told you well beforehand.
Business is a weird blend of mindless optimism and constant pessimism. You need the optimism to see the glowing future that lies ahead and know you will get there. You need the pessimism to be alert to the perils that lurk around every corner.
Give me a business partner who calls up at 930pm and says: I’m really worried about revenue over the next three months.
Because that’s the business partner who will find that revenue somehow, because it’s on their mind around the clock. It gives them the Honey Badger persistence that will get them there. They can sniff out an opportunity from ten miles away, and will push through concrete walls and barbed wire to get to it.
(This BBC honey badger segment is well worth your time).
Business partners who are always going yeah no worries it’s all good will not deliver the results you hope for.
3. Moral Compass
What? Morals? What are you talking about Ian? What about that old saying about cold-blooded self-interest: business is business?
Nah. Business involves all sorts of moral judgements, mainly: how hard do you fuck people over. Sometimes you have make harsh calls, but only when they’re deserved. We do not believe in fucking people over.
If you have one partner who wants to wring the last cent out of every transaction with clients and staff, and one who wants to build a long-term trustworthy reputation, that’ll be heading for business divorce court.
4. They Don’t Think They Did It All
Bosses who believe the entire success of the organization is 100% due to them are just the worst. It’s easy to spot them.
“I this. I that. I had a vision. I delivered excellence at all levels. ”
Shut up, real business life is not The Apprentice.
First person singular is a crime at our place. Nobody says I, me or mine about the business, because those words are fingernails on the blackboard to your partners.
5. Cost Conscious
I wrote about this before in Do You Really Have To Spend Money To Make Money?, it’s easy to blow tons of cash being ‘poised for massive growth’ or other delusions.
Good partners don’t fill up your business with margin-munching middle management who just have meetings with each other.
They spend money where it’s needed but don’t waste it on lavish furnishings, business class flights, enterprise platforms or egotistical sports team sponsorships.
Call me a racial profiler if you like, but I really rate going into business with an Armenian. Armenians are purpose-built for business. Wiry, energetic, focused, numerate, they’re effortlessly good at it, like Kenyan distance runners.
Entirely self-managing, when their eyes open in the morning, they’re not thinking about coffee or what to wear that day. They’re thinking about deals, cash flow, and how to make their customers and staff happy. Though Vicken is second-generation Armenian, the intense commercial drive of his ancestors pulses through his veins around the clock.
You could employ an Armenian, and they’ll do a great job, but an Armenian without equity is like putting your racehorse in your suburban backyard. So much ability and energy just going to waste.
It is an ongoing delight to be in business with Vic and all our other partners. Every year is a thrilling adventure, and the risk of any of us damaging the business with a stupid plan is so much lower with multiple brains at the controls.
If you liked this you might also enjoy Stand Up For Your Staff.
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