Before You Partner Up: What Every Entrepreneur Should Consider

The only ship that doesn’t sail is a partnership.

I first heard this line on the Dave Ramsey Show in the early 2000’s, it is a sad axiom of our age and my standard response when people ask how to find a good partner. The Beatles, Frank and Jamie McCourt, Wozniak and Jobs all serve as cautionary tales that began with tremendous success only to founder in destructive fashion. Headlines across checkout lines and airport kiosks blare out the latest partnership/collab/marriage on the rocks; controversy sells. Examples of successful partnerships are harder to find and definitely don’t attract eyeballs.

Too many partnerships are arrangements of convenience where the problems at hand are of paramount concern and long-term fit is discounted. I’ve seen this time and again in the commercial real estate space, underwriting “experts” desperately looking for a capital raising partner and vice versa. 2 years into managing a project these folks usually realize they have different internal operating systems and the partnership founders. The arrangement may have been temporary, but the carnage is real and long lasting.

The goal of a partnership is to increase effectiveness in a given endeavor. 2 + 2 = 20, milk eggs and sugar equals ice cream. Long term thinking, especially in a culture with ADD like ours, is in short supply. Even when the time horizon is long, the questions usually revolve around economic considerations alone. Will I make more money with X vs Y? Can we scale this business to a better multiple in 12 months by partnering? What’s in it for me?

Economic outcomes are important, but viewing the partnership only considering the destination is bound to bake unexpected sunset clauses into the structure. Those that stand the test of time are built on a bedrock of principle that informs the journey and puts the destination into proper perspective. Joint ventures can survive differing political beliefs, but rarely survive opposite perspectives on the importance of family. A shared moral code serves as a tremendous aid in keeping future conflicts on a productive track.

Looking for a moral code in a potential partner requires that you have one! The best way to find that right partner is to first focus on yourself, building your character, determining your value system, vision casting both the journey and the destination. Imagine the perfect partner, consider the prerequisites they will have, then set about growing in those areas yourself.  Take the time to build the boat with high gunwales and reap the rewards when the storms of life hit.

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