I was 22 when I owned my first business. It was a successful printing equipment repair/maintenance business. I was young enough that I didn’t realize I even owned anything – I thought I just had a job.
But once my then partner and I started to disagree on things I quickly realized that I did have a say in things – that I was, in fact, an owner. My partner at the time was about 15 years older than me, and we were pretty good friends. We were not good business partners.
We wanted different things – I wanted a job – with an upside, – he wanted to not have to work anymore. I wanted to grow and expand, he wanted to keep it simple, maintain the current level of work, and income, and just coast. Sure – I was younger, and more eager, but that wasn’t really the problem – the problem is just that we never talked about what we wanted and expected out of the business. It never came up. Not once in almost three years of working together.
Not until everything imploded. By then it was far to late to fix.
We parted ways, and outside of a short courtroom visit we have not spoken since. I regret that – he was a decent guy that treated me and my then young family pretty well. His wife and kids were very kind to us and we spent many a weekend fishing, swimming, or generally hanging out together. We were both good people, and neither of us ever meant to do the other harm.
The problems we had were caused by me, I think. I just didn’t understand why he could be happy with the status quo – not when I thought we could do so much more. I didn’t understand because we never discussed it. He was older – he wanted security. I was young, and wanted adventure.
Since then I have either started or been involved in starting 7 companies. In some of them I was a peg in a hole – I really didn’t have much to do with the business other than working there. In others I was a founder and officer of the company. To this day I am much more interested in adventure than I am in security. Yes, I love money (who doesn’t?). I love the fact that with money I get freedom – freedom to do, go, and buy what I want to do, go or buy. I love the fact that having money means there is just one less thing you need to worry about (of course that’s not true – it adds a lot of new worries). But I’ve traded money for adventure before – and I will probably do it again. I think I am a serial risk taker.
My current venture is different – although I have never met my current partner face to face we talk a lot. We chat about everything you can possibly chat about. We talk about the goals we have for the business. We talk about what we want to do not only in the business world but in the charitable world as well. We talk about family, and my kids. Yes – this time I am the “elder partner”. I’m the guy who has 15 years on his partner. We talk about his ambitions outside of our business (and he has lofty ambitions!) But we talk – or chat on IM – a lot. As much as being halfway across the world allows, and then some.
But I’ve learned a lot through my various forays into the startup world. I’ve learned a lot about making sure you have your expectations aligned with your partner. But I’m still the same guy that is eager to move, to grow, to develop, promote, master and explode the business. I’m not now, and don’t think I ever will be content to just “let things run”. I don’t want to build a business that I can afford to ignore – I want to build a business, and a relationship with a partner that causes me to always think months and months ahead. I want to keep my brain engaged. I want a business that wants and needs me to be involved every day. I want to be the guy they call to drain the swamp.
And I want to work with people that feel the same way.
At one of my favorite companies I ever worked for they had a huge sign up on the wall that read, “He Who Finds the Snake Kills the Snake” – H. Ross Perot.
Basically it was a call to action for every employ to not just find or bitch about a problem, but to FIX the problem. And we pretty much did that for over a decade, as company after company bought us, merged with other companies, sold us, etc. We had eight different business names in ten years – but we didn’t really change that much. We were a small isolated group far from the mega-corp that owned us. Our CEO once told me, “Do not get assimilated – if you see that happening, call me”. And I know he meant it. He understood the value of a small group of independent thinkers – even if we ignored a lot of the corporate rules (I bought a margarita machine for the office, and we used it!)
So this is a long-winded way of saying that you should pay a lot of attention to your business model – and even more attention to your business partners – and your goals. Make sure you have a plan to make money, and make sure you and your parter(s) agree on what is right – what is best for you, your company, and your customers.
Make sure you talk. And make sure you shut up long enough to listen. If you do, you’ll probably learn something that will help build you a better business.
At the very least you’ll build a better relationship with your partner.