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The four keys to making a business partnership work.

A co-founder shares her advice.

By Vera Gavizon

 

Many years ago, while working as a consultant at McKinsey, one of my clients explained how he always enters into any partnership with a 50% share. He never considers a majority share — even if it is on the table. 

His logic was that this ensured he was a good partner. When no one has a majority, it requires you to explain your positions with rational arguments and fairness and not from a position of power, leading to a greater chance of success. His perspective has resonated with me ever since then.  

There are so many advantages to entering business with a partner as opposed to a sole proprietorship (and many challenges, too). The main advantage for me, when I co-founded Workhoppers, was to share the considerable responsibilities that are expected in starting a business while having time to take care of my family. 

My business partner Linda and I met while our kids were in daycare. At the time, we were busy juggling work, playdates, and the extracurricular activities of our (probably overly-scheduled) kids. We had worked on some contracts together, but it was only when our children started high school and were becoming more independent that we considered changing career paths to become entrepreneurs.

In the summer of 2012, while talking about our frustrations in finding flexible work, Linda and I came up with the idea for Workhoppers; a solution for all the busy professional moms around us to easily find flexible work and for companies to find them. We soon realized that the freelance market included more than moms and was on the rise. 

Finding the right person to start a business with is almost as difficult as finding the right partner in life. If you are lucky, sometimes fate brings you your partner, like it did for me — but often you need to be proactive and use resources, networks and the like to find your match. Our partnership works as we have the same vision and the same level of commitment. It did take some adjustments along the way, and I am happy to share what I learned:

Interview your partner before committing 

Linda and I met when our kids were young. Our friendship was based around having fun, carpools, and entertaining our kids. We had worked on a few projects together but getting into a business partnership requires a different set of skills and commitment. 

Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. What is your long-term vision for the business and what is your level of commitment to the success of it? This will determine the exit strategy, the financing strategy and the level of sacrifice that each is willing to undertake. Get concrete to better understand what your daily life will look like. How many hours a day will you dedicate to the business? Are you willing to sacrifice your personal life to put the business first? How many vacations are you going to take? Is your end goal to become a millionaire or are you seeking a steady income? How long can you commit before the business becomes profitable? I find that our partnership has a particular advantage: we both had made the choice of making certain sacrifices to be there for our kids, and this is very much present in our business relationship. Understanding these dynamics in advance is important when entering a business partnership because it has consequences on how you approach the future of the business.

 

“Finding the right person to start a business with is almost as difficult as finding the right partner in life.”

 

Make room for the differences

It quickly became clear that Linda and I had very different personalities and styles. Linda is more patient, detail-oriented, and good at developing relationships. I am more analytical, more direct, and as a former consultant, I need variety — I like to review the big picture often, and do not look too much into the little details.

It took some time to accept the differences, and to learn how our strengths can complement each other’s weaknesses. Today we try to bring out the best in each other, but we are a work in progress, which means it doesn’t work ALL the time. We are both “control freaks” and like to be involved in everything. Sometimes this makes it hard to make decisions and move quickly. 

Interestingly, a few years ago, we included a personality test in our matching platform that helps companies understand the working habits of the freelancer they are about to hire. This gives a very good idea of their leadership style, level of flexibility, communication skills, self-control and more. I think if we both would have undertaken this test at the beginning of our relationship this would have saved us a lot of energy in learning about each other. Knowing about the differences helps you approach them in a more productive way.

Our way to make it work is by treating everything as a project. Once we agree on the need of the project, we split the development of it — always checking in to get the other’s input before implementing.

 

It is all about open communication

Our relationship works in a respectful way. We have had many clashes (sometimes it feels like we are an old married couple) but we aim to speak openly about our disagreements, and discuss them until we find consensus or apologize. We are not afraid of telling each other the truth about how we feel, and we both easily move on after a disagreement. 

We like to believe that our differences push us to do better and find the best solutions. We know that if either one raises an issue it is because she has a strong opinion on how to proceed. To make a decision we discuss the why, best practices, expert opinions, and finding the facts. All with the objective of doing the right thing for the success of the business. 

 

Don’t forget to have fun

It is very important to remember to have fun while you go through the ups and downs of owning a business. Linda and I have learned to laugh at our mistakes and not to take everything too seriously. Having a partner makes the journey so much more fun and doable. We both believe that we could not do it without the other.  

Building a company is not easy. We share the financial and emotional ups and downs. It is great to have someone to celebrate the good times with, and we hold each other up during the times when we are not so sure of the future. And we know we can rely on each other to take over when needed — whether it’s for travel or to deal with personal issues. And being in the same stage in our personal lives makes it easy to understand the other’s needs and priorities. This is a huge bonus!

Vera Gavizon

Vera Gavizon

Vera Gavizon worked many years in management consulting and venture capital. A project manager by nature and training, she understands the need that companies have to outsource non-core activities to remain competitive. While looking for flexibility to continue her consulting career after motherhood, she envisioned the value of matching small businesses with talented professionals; founding Workhoppers with her partner Linda.