In my experience, some of the best businesses have multiple partners, with complementary strengths. Starting and running a business requires many different skills and interests, and not many of us have all of them. For example, I’m an introverted product guy who doesn’t care so much about building the personnel relationships needed to keep a motivated team.
Thus, in my mentoring of potential technical entrepreneurs who have a real passion for their technology, I often recommend that they find a co-founder who can manage the marketing and execution elements of the new venture. In the restaurant business, I often see great cooks fail to succeed by not having a partner or the right level of focus on the financial side of the equation.
However, finding the right and compatible partner is a tough challenge, just like finding a spouse. The relationship has to work, and there has to be trust at all levels. My advice is to build the relationship first through networking, and find some common values and passion, before assuming that money and experience will solve all potential partner differences.
As you start, it’s important to take a hard look at your own drivers, matched against the critical success elements I see in every business, no matter what the domain. Here are some key ones I have learned in my years of experience:
1. Business success requires focus and execution.
Many smart people I know fall into the category of “idea” people. You may never be at a loss for new ideas, and ways to broaden the appeal of your business. Or you may be easily bored by the needed focus on key objectives, or the day-to-day challenges of driving results that balance the books.
No matter how strong your passion, a business requires results to succeed. Sometimes it takes a trusted partner or co-founder to create a winning strategy, and make the hard decisions to implement the changes or pivots to get to the finish line, rather than give up.
2. Balance of passion with reality and customer feedback.
A strong vision and deep insight may get your business off the ground, but long-term success requires constant data analysis, metrics, and attention to your customer feedback. If tracking the market and reality checking are not your thing, you may need a partner who can fill that gap.
Today, customer loyalty is based on the “total customer experience,” as opposed to price or service alone. Their experience is their end-to-end journey with you, starting with how their friends see you, shopping fun, through service and delivery. Pay attention to all.
3. Ability to organize and motivate individuals into teams.
Some business leaders I know still like the old autocratic approach, where they provide all the decisions and direction from behind the closed door of their corner office. Today’s teams expect to drive their own processes, with visible leadership support and communication from everyone.
According to consistent feedback over the past several years, team engagement is still a critical success factor, and it seems to be stuck at an all-time low of less than 40 percent “fully engaged.” If you do it right, you have a huge opportunity for long-term success.
4. Relentlessly drive improvement, change, and growth.
No matter how strong your solution is today, it will change tomorrow. The competition will improve, the market will change, and your customers will demand more. You, or your partner, must be constantly focused on these needs, as well as the need to optimize repeatable processes.
The challenge is to proactively stay ahead of change in the market, rather than wait and react to the next crisis. This requires you or your partner to actively listen to customers, seek out economic and social trends, and keep abreast of the latest technologies.
5. Build business relationships and a personal brand.
For long-term success and share growth, you or a partner need to do ongoing networking for mentoring, and take an active role in industry conferences to build your personal brand and leadership skills. In business, it is evident to me that who you know is as important than what you know.
I have found that even the biggest brand leaders, including Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Mark Zuckerberg of Twitter, find time to spend with their mentors and peers. These relationships, especially across industries, force them to expand their own thinking.
I’m a believer in capitalizing on your strengths, and using partners or co-founders to shore up weaknesses. I recommend that you use your strong suit early to attract the right partner or partners, and not wait until your business is in jeopardy, or the stress level gets too high. Start today and enjoy the learning.
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