How to choose the right business partner?

By | November 1, 2013

Find the right business partner

Working in multiple startup projects has put me encounters with various people, which has been an excellent learning experience. Some, actually most of them have been and still are just simply great people. Decisions are made easy and it’s just an absolutely pleasure to keep working with them. Usually these projects have successfully moved fast forward. The people and the team dynamism has been a major contributor.

However, then there is the counter part: the negative and difficult people. Everything starts with a “no”, new ideas have to be sold to them, like they were your worst nightmare VC investors. They are always going to different direction than others in the team. Communication is really painful. They think their ideas are great, but when not executable the response is usually hostile. They can really be the killers of a startup, because they drain the energy of others with pointless arguments, and drive the team to focus on wrong things.


There are multiple reasons why we end up in a situation of having difficult business partners. Maybe they didn’t show their true colors at the beginning, or we didn’t and they built a different image of us. Or perhaps we didn’t see the signs soon enough. Maybe the sudden growth of the project changed everything.

I have been part of startup projects, where the founding team members are experienced and have prior startup experience, and projects where the team has consisted first time entrepreneurs. It’s really a no-brainer, which one usually is more likely to succeed and moves faster. And the same applies when building the team: get professionals, who are easy to work with.

Also the ownership or more precisely how the startup project is managed plays a crucial role. Decisions are easier to be made in a small group rather than a large democracy. I have to admit that I have fallen into the trap of too many people in decision-making. It really can be a killer of efficient decisions! It resembles more of a government or a non-profit organization.

It’s just sad to find yourself in a project like that. Most of the time you realize it a little too late, and have invested time and money in it, are facing the question: fight or flight? It’s just business, right? Make a justified decision and move on. Unfortunately it can be a tough one to call.

How to choose the right business partner?

Choosing the right business partners at the beginning is a key for any startup project. Obviously there is the skill and knowledge factor, which is very unique to each startup project. I am not going to touch that here, but to focus more on things that seem like common sense, but many of us tend to forget them. Below are some points that I have learned about selecting business partners along the way.

  1. Make sure you get along well on personal level and have a mutual understanding on things. It just makes everything so much easier.
  2. Keep the number of business partners (management / decision-making team) small. Listen to everyone, but the ultimate decision-making party should be kept small.
  3. Choose a business partner, who you have preferably worked in the past, so that you know his work behavior and how he deals under pressure.
  4. Ideally you both have a similar life situation, are willing to invest the same amount of money, time and dedication. This can be a business partner relationship killer, if you’re not on the same page on what each will bring to the table.
  5. Ideally choose a business partner who either has entrepreneurial mindset (not and employee mindset), or has been an entrepreneur before.

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