How to choose your future business partner

When recruiting new employees, we tend to work off a list of questions that we ask the candidates. We are usually most interested in past experience, skills, work tenure, past employers and a little bit of the candidates view of their strengths and weaknesses. From this, we seem to gather enough information to make a decision on whether we want to welcome them into our business or not. Sometimes it works, and as all business owners know, sometimes it doesn’t.

When choosing a business partner, the process is different.  Very rarely do we actually interview each other. Often, we are friends or colleagues first and our relationship has naturally reached a point where we start talking about taking the leap into business. Often the risks are much higher choosing a business partner than an employee. After all, like a marriage, you are starting a joint bank account and make most decisions together as well as relying on having a deep level of respect for and trust in each other. It is quite interesting that we don’t seem to go through as thorough a ‘recruitment’ process when both deciding to go into partnership.

I believe that one of the best activities that the Scrappi Cofounders undertook on day one was a full-day ‘strategy’ session, focusing less on the business strategy and more on our partnership strategy. We spent time working through our core values, our ambitions, our life goals and what we personally wanted to achieve through this venture and in life. We didn’t go away to read the shareholders agreement separately and email it back, signed. Rather, we had a lawyer sit with us together and go through each line in detail. We discussed every possible ‘bad’ situation that could happen and how we would deal with it. 

Whilst we were very confident about the success of our partnership (we wouldn’t have been doing it otherwise), we went in knowing that life can change course and things can go wrong – so we decided to talk about this possibility then and there. This may sound like a pretty standard approach, but it’s actually not. Like most relationships in the honeymoon phase, everyone is excited and full of positivity. No one thinks anything is going to sour and so often planning for the worst is the last thing on your mind, not to mention it would just put a dampener on everyone’s excitement. But by having this conversation up front, it set the tone for us to always speak openly and frankly about any concerns we have, which has meant they have been dealt with quickly and easily.

In addition to the above, there is one other question that I think you should always ask a future business partner. A non-negotiable if you like. I must know whether or not the person I am going into business with has experienced adversity. Because the fact is, every business venture is going to come with big challenges. The quicker you grow and the more successful you become (and once serious money is involved), the bigger those challenges will be. How you deal with these challenges as a team and as individuals will be critical to your overall success. If you or your business partner don’t have the grit, guts and gumption to dig in and get through the tough times together, you won’t get far.

So, before you start clinking glasses and getting excited about taking over the world together, I highly recommend having a down-to-earth and raw discussion about the tough things you have both been through, what you learnt and how you would handle those situations in the future. Knowing you can rely on each other during the tough times is much more comforting than knowing someone has been successful in a past life.