Till Death Do Us Part.
Walking out the door of a secure, well-paying job for the last time can be a terrifying experience, and for good reason. The world of business is filled with trials, uncertainty, failure, and the dreaded task of double-entry bookkeeping.
There is then a certain comfort in the prospect of meeting those challenges with a partner. A good partner stands beside you, deflecting the slings and arrows of doubt, providing cover fire when you are under assault, and instinctively compensating for weaknesses that will inevitably be revealed.
Perhaps less obvious but equally important, partnership provides a mechanism for sharing the benefits of ownership. While individual triumph is rewarding, team success is exhilarating. Did you write a popular blog post? Have you nailed a proposal? Did the client salivate at the sight of your design? Try selling your significant other on the magnitude of the experience. Now imagine repeating the same story—or better yet, experiencing the outcome simultaneously—with your business partner. Quite a difference, eh? Anyone who ever beat the original Contra with a friend knows exactly what I mean. Shared success is a powerful experience.
A Sturdy Foundation.
Solo entrepreneurs are hardly an endangered species. Many have succeeded in the past and doubtless many will in the future as well. What I actually hope to convince you of here is not the merit of founding a business with a partner but the necessity of reading The Partnership Charter1 if you do.
Written by David Gage, The Partnership Charter provides indispensable advice on avoiding the pitfalls of co-ownership as well as leveraging its benefits to fullest extent possible. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Every chapter is quotable. I will restrain myself to one:
Putting the spoken word on paper has an almost magical way of moving people from vagueness to clarity. 2
This is the core recommendation of the book, to write and sign a charter outlining the roles, responsibilities, and expectations for each partner prior to embarking on the business journey. We used the template provided to create an agreement for managing Full Stop Interactive. Our charter3 states the following objectives:
- Provide clear guidelines for managing the business
- Anticipate and mitigate potential sources of conflict
- Establish personal and company goals
- Clarify our individual roles within the business
- Note topics to revisit in the near future
We do not consult from the charter daily. It is not read aloud before board meetings while we hold our hands over our hearts. What is has done and continues to do is codify our company philosophy, serve as a reminder of the promises we have made to ourselves and each other, and inspire us to constantly work to meet the lofty goals we have set for the company.
A Plea for Unity.
It is entirely possible for you to begin a partnership without having ever read this book. It is further possible that you will enjoy tremendous success whether through the foresight that you cunningly displayed in choosing your partners, planning your growth, and moving your product or by blind chance and undeserved luck. In either case, there will likely come a day when the principles espoused by Gage will be shockingly relevant. I urge you to find and read this book now. An ounce of prevention in this case is worth many thousands of dollars, hundreds of wasted hours, and the poisoned relationships that result when partnerships sour.
Partnerships are nearly as complicated, demanding, and, thankfully, rewarding as marriages, so while your charter won’t bind you together until death, it had better have a plan for better and for worse, for sickness and for health, for richer and for poorer.
- I’m ashamed to admit I have no idea where I first heard about this book. I somehow found it in the course of researching how to start a business. If anyone can find the missing citation, I would love to credit the author who recommended this fantastic book. (Also, this is not an affiliate link.) [↩]
- p. 44 [↩]
- I would like nothing more than to quote our charter at length here or, better, to publish the entire document online. I say without exaggeration I am more proud of this charter than any document I have ever written. This, however, is not the place. There is an important milestone in our company’s history rapidly approaching. Maybe that will occasion a deeper look at who we are. [↩]