When my former business partner and I decided to start a company together, we were giddy with glee. Seemingly a perfect match- both already had profitable businesses, good reputations within the industry, and a robust pipeline of new clients- we were armed with a cute pair of matching coffee mugs and a newfound pep in our step. Between us both, we were aggressive, ambitious and had the perfect blend of tactical execution and people skills. Certainly we were poised for global domination.
Boy, were we wrong.
A year into our partnership, we found ourselves embroiled in a major battle over our business dissolution. On paper, we were invariably compatible, but in reality, our vastly different personalities and corporate work styles played out closer to the cast of the “Real Housewives” rather that that of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women list. The breakup left us brokenhearted, drained, and paranoid.
How was that possible when we did everything by the books- spending countless hours carefully architecting our business strategy, establishing our organization structure, while receiving top-notch counsel from our lawyers, accountants, and advisers? The moment we officially launched, we were on an immediate trajectory, locking in a significant international joint venture partnership and several new key clients.
Oftentimes when people recount personal failures, it’s followed by an anecdotal, almost obligatory narrative of, “it wasn’t so much one thing as it was a culmination of…” That wasn’t the case for us, because in the several years of reflection and gained wisdom, I was able to see exactly where things went sour in our partnership and how it all spiraled downward.
- Clash of the Egos– Early on in our partnership, we were so fortunate enough to receive a front page spot in South Korea’s The Korea Herald– this was analogous to our version of The New York Times. In the article, my partner and I talked about the market opportunities of Korea’s thriving economy being an attractive investment to U.S. investors. We both did a great job except when the piece went to print, the editor decided to go with a single photo of me as opposed to the picture with us both repping our agency. I knew my partner was disappointed and yet I was too embarrassed to initiate the conversation. After this instance, a strange yet subtle competition ensued, one that we did not even consciously realize until it was playing out in daily events. A few weeks later, we decided to sponsor a major event where we both equally shelled out a sizeable amount of marketing dollars. My partner who was handling the event decided to only include her name rather than both of ours on the sponsorship list as an even exchange for what occurred in South Korea. That calculated attempt became a tipping point for the avalanche that followed.
Bottom Line: Oftentimes, events occur that are beyond our control. When it does, it is still better to address an uncomfortable situation rather than letting it fester and become a precursor to a clash of egos and inequitable exchanges. Like any good all-star team, keeping egos in check is paramount to achieving a harmonious work rhythm. Sometimes you get the score and sometimes you only get the assist and you have to be able to gracefully handle both.
- Different personalities– You know the saying that “opposites attract” and even complement one another? That may be true but only when you are able to communicate effectively. One thing that really reared us off our path was that our client pitches were sometimes scattered due to our different negotiation tactics. One was more succinct and to the point, while the other liked to be more personal by telling stories. Both were effective, however oftentimes in meetings we were struggling with a tug-of-war that didn’t always close the deal because we did not have united focus and approach.
Bottom Line: Having a difference in approach can be cultivated in a positive way but both parties need to lay out the differences and decide on a tactical approach that meets the end goal. This means sometimes one party will lead and the other will need to follow in order to close the deal.
- Long-term goals and vision– Right off the bat, our mission was to get clients but we never talked about where we wanted to focus our clientele. I came from an international background and my business partner enjoyed working on U.S. companies so we brought different geographies into our book of business. We began to butt heads over which ones we would focus on, neither of us understanding at the time that we had different long-term visions for our business.
Bottom Line: Discussions on top-level growth strategies need to be honed down to the nitty gritty – sometimes even on the geography of your future clientele. Simply wanting to grow is not enough. Early on in any partnership, it’s important to discuss long-term objectives, hopes, and plans on the future of the company in extreme depth.
- Different working styles – There are various amount of working styles. Some enjoy a “big picture” approach, working more independently, while others like to collaborate on the entire process along the way. My partner and I were mistaken when we viewed this as a personality conflict instead of having different working styles and so we didn’t confront the issue head on. The distinction eventually created a wedge between us, where one felt micro-managed and the other, neglected.
Bottom Line: Different work styles can actually be beneficial in a partnership but both parties need to address this at the earliest juncture and find a structure that satisfies each other’s working approaches that moves the company forward.
- How to Spend Money: We had different notions of how to expend our resources. My partner was looking to spend money on marketing and hiring in order to delegate and grow the business. I was looking to conserve our spending cash, be more involved operationally, and grow organically. We never talked about what we wanted in our personal lifestyles and as a result, how we spent our money became a point of contention.
Bottom Line: Discussing how to allocate our resources effectively is a challenging conversation but not if you pinpoint what you are trying to achieve in the long run and whether the money spent is getting your company closer to your final destination.