Questions Potential Business Partners Should Ask Themselves
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Questions Potential Business Partners Should Ask Themselves

Starting a new company with somebody requires a hard conversation. Better now than later.

Fri, May 10, 2024 8:41amGrey Clock 5 min

You and a friend have a can’t-miss idea for a new business. You’ve got a great name, and the logo is perfect.

It is time to ask each other some hard questions.

Talking up front about tough subjects like how you work, how you deal with stress and your expectations for the business can save lots of headaches later. “Most issues are neutral when you discuss them ahead of time,” says Jane Brodsky , who ran a barre-and-spin studio with a partner for 10 years in Washington, D.C. “But in the heat of the moment, issues become personal and larger than they need to be.”

Here are crucial questions that should be settled at the start to help make the partnership succeed.

How did your family communicate?

Maybe you were raised in a family that talked through disagreements to find solutions. But maybe your partner grew up in a house where the loudest voice won. That could be a problem when issues arise in the business: Experts say that when people are under stress, they often fall back on behaviours that were imprinted at home—and different styles could clash.

At Happy Being, a company that sells nutritionally enhanced teas and drink powders, the three co-founders discussed communication style before they started the business. “We discovered that one partner gets triggered if he feels no one is listening,” says co-founder Dutch Buckley . “It goes back to an early fear of not being heard.” (For his part, co-founder Josemaria Silvestrini says that early on he “definitely needed the validation of being recognised and being right.”)

So, the three work at making sure everyone has a say in meetings, and they made a rule that no one’s work is ever belittled. On the flip side, when someone on the team accomplishes something, someone else on the team draws attention to it.

What does success look like to you? And failure?

While these may seem obvious—like, the business either succeeds or fails—everyone’s definition is different, and they are surprisingly specific. Certainly, monetary goals or anything that can be enumerated will help partners envision each other’s goals. Is one looking to grow slowly with customers and suppliers in the community and get to better than break even after three years, while the other wants to be cash-flow positive in year one and scale quickly to sell the business to a larger entity after 10 years? There’s a lot of success and failure in between those two outcomes, depending on your perspective.

Silvestrini of Happy Being recommends hashing it out together on the whiteboard until everyone agrees on an explicit definition of success for the company. “Hopefully, it’s an easy 10-minute conversation,” he says. “Because if founders have different objectives, the boat is going nowhere.”

What does everyone bring to the table?

It is crucial to discuss what each partner is contributing to the partnership in terms of expertise, experience, network and money. Kathryn Zambetti , an executive coach specialising in founder relationships, recommends taking an honest strengths-and-weaknesses inventory of yourself and your partner and then discussing what you both bring to the table. The exercise will help delineate which responsibilities naturally suit each partner, and it will highlight areas that will require additional work or outsourcing.

The clearer the roles can be defined, the better. If you are opening a bakery, you and your partner shouldn’t both be good at just making bread. Someone needs to handle marketing, suppliers, leases and licensing, financials and hiring and managing employees.

Why are you doing this?

You and your partner need to be in complete alignment on your motivations. Does this venture need to support your family or merely add to your vacation fund? Are you doing it to prove your father or your high-school econ teacher wrong? Any answer other than unfailing commitment to the mission or the product is a red flag.

“Your north star has to be something bigger than money to succeed,” says Buckley. “People will go through things that test them, but if money is the only motive, that won’t be enough.”

What pushes your buttons?

Just like in a marriage, you want to know best how to support and protect your business partner. Understanding what puts each of you in a fight-or-flight mode can be key to getting the best out of each other.

Do you need to be consulted on all decisions, or just major ones? Do you need to be recognized as the leader and sit at the head of the table? Do you fear having to downsize your home if the business fails?

What does your workday look like?

Does a day at the office mean working 9 to 5? Can the work be done remotely and on your own time? If you work well at night and need rapid responses to questions, is it a problem having a partner whose phone goes on “do not disturb” every evening at 7? Having the conversation and understanding expectations is key.

When Buckley started Happy Being, the team learned that one of the partners got up very early. “I had to tell him, ‘We don’t want 6 a.m. calls.’ ”

Do you like taking gambles?

A penchant for lottery tickets, Las Vegas gambling or high-adrenaline activities like skydiving shows a potential partner’s tolerance for risk and whether that aligns with your own. There will be countless decisions early on in a business concerning risk, and the partners need to be on the same page.

So ask about it. You go into the venture planning and hoping for success, but how much money or time is your partner willing to lose if it doesn’t succeed? How much of their parents’ or in-laws’ money would they bet on the partnership?

Is the business more important than the friendship?

Many business partners start as friends. But would you each be willing to give priority to making the right decision for the business, even if it means possibly hurting the friendship? Would you each be capable of letting the other one go if it was better for the company? Most advisers recommend choosing a partner who has a common business goal and letting the friendship build from that, rather than trying to build a partnership on top of a strong friendship.

“Your business partner will be one of your most intense relationships, but it shouldn’t fulfill every role in your life,” says Amy Jurkowitz, entrepreneur and co-founder of branding adviser Bread Ventures. “You need to be compatible in how much energy you will both put into the business.”

If the partnership doesn’t work out, how will it end?

A co-founder relationship is a binding agreement with financial and emotional repercussions, just like a marriage. But starting a business has the added stress of having the company—the baby—arrive on day one. If there is a divorce, who gets custody?

The more specific you can be about potential breakups, the better. If you are both putting capital in at the start, would you expect to get that out if you exited? What if, several years in, one partner can’t continue to struggle without a regular paycheck and leaves—and the next year the company finally turns a profit or is bought by another company? Would the partner who left get a share of the money?

These discussions should help make it clear that the survival of the company—and not the partnership or the friendship—is the ultimate goal. Those who have been through a business breakup recommend involving a third party to help sort through these issues at the outset.


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35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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The most significant contributor to the April inflation rise were housing costs, which rose 4.9 percent on an annual basis. This reflects a continuing rise in weekly rents amid near-record low vacancy rates across the country, as well as significantly higher labour and materials costs which builders are passing on to the buyers of new homes, as well as renovators.

The second biggest contributor was food and non-alcoholic beverages, up 3.8 percent annually, reflecting higher prices for fruit and vegetables in April. The ABS said unfavourable weather led to a reduced supply of berries, bananas and vegetables such as broccoli. The annual rate of inflation for alcohol and tobacco rose by 6.5 percent, and transport rose by 4.2 percent due to higher fuel prices.

Robert Carnell, the Asia Pacific head of research at ING, said they no longer expect a rate cut this year after seeing the April data. Mr Carnell said an increase in trend inflation was apparent and “rate cuts this year look unlikely”. In the RBA’s latest monetary policy statement, published before the April CPI was released, it said: “Inflation is expected to be higher in the near term than previously thought due to the stronger labour market and higher petrol prices. But inflation is still expected to return to the target range in the second half of 2025 and to reach the midpoint in 2026.”



This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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