8 Tips on maintaining a Great Partnership — A Valentine’s Day Bromance

What better day to incorporate a company with your best mate than Valentine’s Day? That’s exactly what Joel and I asked ourselves in 2013, messing around with wireframes and business model canvases all over my mum’s kitchen for a solid month and a half. Having successfully (profitably) waved goodbye to our daily deal site by Christmas 2012, we were at it again immediately; the adrenaline of creating something from nothing was intoxicating, and we were deep in customer research stage, sheets of paper everywhere, much to my mum’s disappointment. She wasn’t sure why we couldn’t do it in our own homes, and looking back, neither am I, but I’m sure a constant supply of food had something to do with it.

So there we were, single, focused, and in love. With the creative process; bouncing ideas off of one another, fleshing them out, realising they were terrible, starting again. For some reason, we both genuinely got a kick out of that. Whilst our mates were going out on various ‘singles’ jaunts, we’d just experienced first hand how quickly you can gain traction, make money, and scale, all thanks to the internet. This was to be our third venture together, but this one felt different. The first time, we did physical products, and it was hard to scale, but we created a million products and that ended profitably too. Next, we’d ventured online with the daily deal site but used licensed software from the Ukraine, so again, we weren’t able to scale our ambition. This time was indeed different. This time, we were going to start a ‘tech company’. An actual ‘start — up’.

We would hire our own developers. We would learn how to manage them. We would create our own IP. We would build a product that got traction. We would win awards. We would raise millions. Someone would buy our company for millions. All things we’d never done before. To us, nothing was more exciting. Nothing was more romantic.

4 years on, remembering back to that Valentines Day on Companies House’s website, what we thought we’d achieve, it’s been a whole lot harder than anticipated, that’s for sure. But, one way or another…

We have hired our own developers. We have learned to manage them. We have created our own IP. We built a product that got traction. We won awards. We raised millions. We’ve now done it before. Someone even did try to buy our company for millions, but it didn’t go through. Oh well, almost a full house. And yes, it’s romantic to think that two friends sitting there together deciding what they can achieve, can actually do it.

However, it’s been real tough. Sounds so simple when written out in short hand. But we aren’t millionaires. We almost were, as recently as October, but we’re not. In fact, we didn’t take salary in December or January just to get us through a tricky period that thankfully, we have overcome. That’s how quickly things can change — and that’s the kinds of ups and downs you face in partnership.

So — what’s the secret to making it with your other half, or in my case, a better half? Here are my tips for the foundation of a great business partnership.

  1. Trust — This is my number 1, as you can see by it’s numerical positioning. You go through enough anxiety in business, people are dishonest, and have their own agendas. You don’t need that in a business partnership. I’ve never once doubted that Joel has my back, and I know he thinks the same. You can overcome a lot in business, but if trust is broken you’ll never come back from it.
  2. Complimentary Skills — This is useful for a bunch of reasons, but for starters, it means you gravitate towards different areas of business naturally, so there’s less crossover, you can excel in your own way and grow faster.
  3. Honest Feedback — Humans are sensitive creatures. Whilst you might have to walk on egg shells around your employees at times, there’s no time for that with a partner. Be constructive, direct, and open — and no shit sandwiches — if there’s an issue, call it out immediately, don’t let it linger. The more you normalise this, the less chance it ever has to be offensive.
  4. Work Ethic — 4 years later and I often still work from 8am to midnight, and all weekend. So does Joel. Quite often we aren’t communicating about it, we’re just getting shit done cos it has to get done. He does his thing, I do mine — and it’s not a competition, sometimes we do 10–6pm, but when the requirements there, you cant be concerned if your partner is pulling their weight, that leaves an imbalance you cant let go of.
  5. Fun — Sure it’s hard and sure, sometimes I’d rather be a well paid employee with some sort of God complex making heating and sound adjustment related demands of my boss the whole time instead, but I know I can reflect on our journey and say overall, it’s been fun. It is fun. I work with talented people, meet inspiring leaders, learn every single day, and get to work in a relaxed good humoured environment of my own making.
  6. Optimism — You make your own luck. No, seriously. Some people call this ‘Hustle’ — we call it being relentlessly resourceful and eternally optimistic. Everyone will say “no”. Then they’ll tell your business partner “no”. Often that’s the polite ones too. You can resign yourself to this impending doom or negative fate, or you can tell each other to knock down more doors, pursue more leads, beg borrow and steal more time. If we took people’s advice/words/comments to heart by now, it would be game over.
  7. Patience — We all think we’ll exit in 3 years, and to be fair to us, we actually almost did! But seeing as we didn’t, here we are starting year 4, and whilst that sounds like ages, it’s actually not — and when you look at the stories of people like Twitter, Pinterest, Airbnb and learn how long it took them to properly grow… you realise not everyone is facebook. Most startups die in their first 18 months, and we’re still standing. That’s not down to either one of us alone, but the partnership in action.
  8. Enjoy the ride together — There’s so much to enjoy (especially if you’re a sadist and love people being arseholes to you for fun) :) But seriously, linked to the last point — enjoying the ride instead of focusing on the destination is a key takeaway that makes every day more pleasant. If one of you is only looking for an exit, and the other wants to keep growing the business, it’s not going to work. You need to align your goals, and make sure they are the same or you will run into severe issues.

I’ll leave you with this very apt, romantic and perfectly fitting Valentines Day #BFFs masterpiece from Balance Magazine this week on ‘great partnerships’.

Whoever you get to spend this romantic day with, I hope your partnership is as strong as ours remains. Much love.

Dan and Joel in Balance Magazine