How to Build Trust With Your Business Partner / by Gavin Lau

  Gary Waters—Getty Images

Gary Waters—Getty Images

The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What are the benefits of starting a company with a partner?” is written by Stav Vaisman, co-founder and CEO of OurPlan.

I’ve had a partner in every one of my business ventures. Partners provide another set of eyes to deliver another perspective, and often possess skill sets that complement your own. In some cases, they’re necessary just to help shoulder what might be an excessive workload in the startup phase.

Partners can also provide intangible benefits. It’s easier to justify mixing business and pleasure at the bar with your business partner than yourself. Here are three things to keep in mind if you’re thinking of starting a company with a partner:


They help with ideas

There’s a reason they call it brainstorming. Sometimes those ideas swirling inside your head grow into a tempest. A partner can provide fresh and immediate perspective about the viability of your idea. The startup phase of a business requires an enormous amount of decisions to be made expeditiously, and your decisions will benefit from the immediate feedback your partner can provide. Some of these decisions might seem small, but can actually have dramatic impacts.

During my first venture, my partner and I scheduled daily meetings to review seemingly mundane decisions. More than once, we caught each other on the verge of making bad — and potentially damaging — decisions. What seemed like a good idea at the time turned out to be less than appealing with a little feedback from my partner.


They bring out the best

Remember the famous line from As Good as It Gets, when Jack Nicholson’s character says, “You make me want to be a better man”? It may be corny, but it’s true. Our partnerships, whether romantic or business, allow our strengths to be complemented and our weaknesses to be compensated. One of my ventures required a substantial amount of technical expertise that I simply lacked. My partner helped me pick up the slack.

Meanwhile, one of my other partners lacked the people skills necessary to manage some of our employees who are more sensitive to criticism. I provided more of the qualities these vulnerable—yet highly talented—staff members needed to perform optimally. Partners allow our best traits to be maximized and our lesser traits to be mitigated.


They provide emotional support

Every startup has its fair share of triumphs and sorrows. Hopefully the former outweigh the latter, but in either case, your partner can provide the emotional support you need to confront the good, the bad, and the ugly. We might like to think of ourselves as calculating strategists, but we’re people, too. Your partner can be there to celebrate and commiserate.

One of my mentors, who came of age during the era of the three-martini lunch, tried to never finish a day without having a drink with his partner. They would recount the day’s failures and successes. They would blow off steam or just have a good laugh. Sometimes their nights would end strangely reminiscent of a Mad Men episode, but the point is that they were there for each other. Even if your late-night preference is herbal tea rather than Scotch, your partner can provide the support you need to navigate the turbulent, emotional journey of a startup.

But this benefit comes with a potential pitfall. Your partner might be your friend, and this can be the worst type of mixing business with pleasure. Both of you must decide that, if you decide to go into business together, your partnership comes before the friendship. If you were partners first and friends later, don’t forget that the business still comes first. Relationships in business must deliver what’s best for the business. That’s the most ethical approach for your investors, your employees, your suppliers, and, of course, your partner.

My Mad Men mentor started his first business with a partner who became his closest friend. They golfed every Sunday, and their families vacationed together. When a buyer for their firm eventually came calling, they wanted my mentor to lead the acquired company, but saw no future for his partner. Their friendship fell apart over the deal, and the bad blood led to protracted litigation as they fought over whether to accept the acquisition offer. Don’t let your partner become your friend, or your friend become a partner, unless you are willing to sacrifice both based on what’s best for the business.

Despite this potential pitfall, I’m a strong advocate of partnerships. I’ve enjoyed extraordinary partners in all of my ventures. I owe much of my success to them. They’ve given me another set of eyes. They’ve complemented and compensated my strengths and weaknesses, respectively. They’ve provided the social support necessary to celebrate my triumphs or wallow in my sorrows. And yes, as corny as it sounds, they’ve made me a better man.