Forging a business partnership is a huge undertaking. When you create a formal alliance with someone, you’re building something very similar to a marriage. There’s a lot of faith, hope and optimism coupled with announcements, legal documents and the actual undertaking of the project at hand.
A great partner can elevate your talents and ideas to incredible heights. But to find the right partner, you have to understand your own strengths and weaknesses as well as theirs. You want someone who brings something different to the table, but also a relationship that can foster plenty of mutual understanding and productive momentum.
Sometimes, entrepreneurs are lucky enough to be able to take their pick of partners, and the candidates may vary with respect to who’s “new” and who is “established.” Both can have apparent advantages and risks, but the most important thing is to evaluate every potential partner as an individual.
Weigh the risks and rewards.
If you are thinking of partnering with a promising newcomer, the risks may be higher because they are untested, but that person may offer a unique perspective that engineers extremely creative solutions. On the other hand, a longtime leader may have experience, but that could translate to demands for a higher paycheck or bigger piece of the pie. Whether someone is a newbie or seasoned, never forget that no one is bulletproof. Even Daymond John, FUBU founder and famous Shark Tank investor, recently admitted that he lost $750,000 in his first season on the show.
Don’t make age the deciding factor.
The number of years between now and someone’s birth date isn’t generally a number that matches up with their IQ, emotional and social intelligence, instincts or maturity. The oldest person in the room may act like a toddler throwing a tantrum, while their grandchild might speak with the vision, sensitivity and clarity of an old soul. Younger generations shouldn’t discount older generations as stodgy sticks in the mud, and older generations shouldn’t assume that the “kid” doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Instead of judging a book by its age, decide based on things that actually matter -- business acumen, creativity and work ethic.
Consider the full spectrum of business experience.
Businessman and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban started working at age 12, selling garbage bags to save for a pair of shoes. Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered newspapers as a teenager and worked at a paper mill. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ran a summer camp for kids when he was in high school. None of these early odd jobs may seem to directly relate to what these superstars went on to achieve, but the point is -- if you are smart and work hard, all experience is a chance to learn. When someone is gifted, every experience can fuel big ideas. Some jobs are less flashy than others, but what counts is the experience the worker takes with them and how they use it. Never assume a full resume is flawless or a short one is worthless. Instead, ask what people got out of their experiences.
What does the partner get out of the deal?
Great partnerships offer value to both parties, so think about what you need most as well as what your potential partners need most. Those needs and values should align so that both of you have something to offer each other. If you can’t offer a high salary, but your partner is already established and willing to take stock instead, things may work out perfectly. If someone has huge potential but little experience, they may be willing to meet you in the middle in exchange for your willingness to bet on them.
How strong is the potential partner’s commitment?
No matter how passionate you are about a business, sometimes life presents challenges that make it hard to commit everything a growing company demands. If you’re going to partner with someone, their commitment to the business should be as strong as yours. If someone is entangled in another serious undertaking -- caring for a family member or sticking with another full-time job or other activity that takes a lot of time and mental energy -- it’s important to ask if they have enough room to partner with you as an equal. Someone who is just starting out, is launching a new career in the field or is semi-retired, might have more energy to offer than someone mid-career who has lots of other commitments. Regardless of the potential partner’s age, ask yourself if they really have the space for partnership.