On the Same Page

On the Same Page

!-- -- On the same page


  • A complementary skill set is key when choosing a partner in business.
  • Be clear about what you expect from your partner, and what they will expect of you.
  • Understand you won’t always agree with each other but that you both have the same ultimate goal.

With the right co-founder and a shared vision at the core of your business, you and your partner can boost each other’s strengths.

The cornerstone of a great partnership is a shared vision – two (or more) people striving for exactly the same thing with a crystal-clear picture of how to get there. The reality check is that there’s a very good chance your co-founder has a completely different idea of where they sees things going.

It’s a common scenario, one that business adviser John Nelligan of Business Doctors, which has clients across Ireland, sees quite regularly.

“I’m never surprised by partnerships that fail,” he says. “I’m more surprised by ones that last.”

To avoid car-crash business partnerships, it’s important to ensure you and your co-founder(s) are on the same page from the get-go. It helps if your relationship is rock-solid, and another plus is complementary skill sets.

“When people leave paid employment to launch a business they tend to look for a business partner who can complement them – someone who is different enough to be able to bring skills that might otherwise be lacking,” says Nelligan. “Often that makes a lot of sense because there’s a huge amount of learning when new businesses start.”

Agree to disagree

Daniel Landen, co-founder of Protected Travel Services, believes communication is key. He says: “[My business partner] Tom and I have opposite skill sets that complement one another – I am more sales focused and Tom comes from banking, so he’s a stickler for attention to detail. But what makes our relationship work – opposite skill sets, different thought processes and different perceptions – are often the sticking points that can make us fall down.

“There are certain decisions on which we have had to agree to disagree, but we agree to try one of our ways and have respect for the path we have chosen.”

Paul Russell and Shanine Jajh, co-founders of corporate training company Luxury Academy, often disagree but say their mutual respect enables the company to flourish.

“Regardless of how much we may disagree, we are always on each other’s side,” explains Russell. “We have no secrets and talk about everything. Shanine has become my best friend as well as business partner, I think largely because she’s the only one who understands the struggles from the start, like searching down the sides of the sofas for 20p coins so we could buy petrol to go and see a client.”

Manage business expectations

Rachel Murphy knew her father, John, would be the perfect person with whom to go into business when they were renovating an old cottage and came across a product named Liquid Glass while trying to solve a damp problem. Today, they run Wexford-based NP Liquid Glass Systems and are the product’s sole supplier in Ireland.

“I immediately told Dad I was handing in my notice at work and I wanted to come on board to work with him,” recalls Murphy of the fateful day she realised there would be a market for the product in Ireland. “I don’t think there was much of a discussion after that – I was quite headstrong in the fact we were going to make this work. I’m a natural salesperson and I wanted to get started as soon as possible.”


“We’ve both had to learn how to meet in the middle and listen to each other, but I think we’re both quite level-headed, so any disagreements are usually dealt with quickly and we move on”

Rachel Murphy, co-founder, NP Liquid Glass Systems


Three years on, the alliance is weathering well, thanks, perhaps, to a little give and take. “We’ve had to learn how to meet in the middle and listen to each other,” says Murphy, “but I think we’re both quite level-headed, so any disagreements are usually dealt with quickly and we move on.”

The importance of good communication, she says, can’t be overestimated. “Be honest with each other from the start, and if there’s a problem, talk to each other,” she says. “You also need to know in advance what will happen if you don’t agree on an issue and how you will resolve it. Anyone going into business with a partner needs to be very clear about their expectations, so ask what you expect from each other and from the business itself.”

Divergent thinking

For a partnership to be considered a success, Nelligan says divergent thinking needn’t necessarily be a problem: “Sometimes there’s scope in business for one of the partners to explore different avenues, and maybe that would be a new revenue stream for the company,” he says. “It can be a positive thing.”

Even a partnership that ultimately collapses isn’t necessarily a disaster – so long as communication is maintained and the parties involved feel like they are getting what they want in the long term. While Nelligan has saved many business partnerships, he accepts that in some cases people simply need to move on. “It happened recently with a client,” he says, “with one partner moving off into a completely different business. After a cooling-off period of about six months, I discussed it with them and they both viewed it as a positive thing. They were happier with their new situation and were still friends.”

Nelligan does, however, have one final thought. If you’re the kind of person with wide-reaching skills, a clear idea of where you want to go and bags of tenacity, launching on your own might not be a bad course of action.

“You should certainly consider doing it that way if it suits you,” he adds. “Quite often giving away 50% of your company because you were lacking a little confidence when you launched can be a reason why partnerships fail a little further down the line.”




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