When my co-founders and I came together to form our company only three months after meeting for the first time, we didn’t have a proper business plan. We didn’t have business school credentials, investors or the traditional experience one would think is required to turn an idea into a thriving business. But we had each other, for better or for worse.
After signing paperwork to form our business, we soon learned that starting a business together was much like entering into a marriage.
As we enter our third year of consecutive growth, it’s important to remember that we still have each other, and still for better or for worse. Over the last several years, our partnership dynamic has evolved dramatically, often through a series of disagreements, key decision-making moments, wins and mistakes. These moments produced an unspoken constitution by which we operate and grow our business together.
Focus on role accountability
In the beginning, when our business was small, we were firm believers in the unimportance of job titles. Instead, we preferred to focus on role fulfillment. We determined roles organically by acknowledging our individual strengths and weaknesses as the business grew and encountered new challenges.
Each new challenge presented an opportunity for certain co-founders to step up or step aside. We quickly learned to never let personalities interfere with the mission of the business. After all, my co-founders were all friends before becoming business partners. Knowing where to draw the line between our friendship and business has always remained paramount.
I have learned that while not all of my friends will make the best business partners, my business partners can become great friends. When you approach any new venture, make an honest assessment of your friendship to evaluate trust, honesty and dependability. The strongest personality traits will dictate a co-founder’s role.
Inaction comes with perils
When two co-founders disagree on a particular course of action, the fallout can be ugly. Most healthy business relationships are built on complementary opinions and perspectives, but failure to cultivate a symbiotic approach to business growth will result in a continual impasse.
Sometimes making the wrong decision together yields a better outcome than making no decisions at all. Mistakes can almost always become learning experiences, but inaction can stifle even the most opportunistic ventures.
We learned this lesson very early when we couldn’t agree whether or not to pull the trigger on a unique event promotional opportunity. As a result, we were not logistically prepared for a better opportunity that presented itself shortly after.
Even if the first event had been a complete failure, we could have used the experience to ensure our success in the next one. Always arrive at a concrete decision and course of action. Avoid stalling out of fear or tabling the conversation until later.
Learn to overcome stalemates
Opposing viewpoints are a natural and healthy aspect of any partnership. When two of us arrive at a stalemate, we embrace an unorthodox, pragmatic and effective approach to move forward. We immediately reverse our positions and advocate for the other partner’s choice in the matter. We attempt to explain why the opposing decision is the right one, simultaneously we find flaws in our own perspectives and the strengths in others.
For example, if I’m in favor of increasing spend in a paid media channel and my partner disagrees, I will be asked to evaluate the potential drawbacks of the campaign. By the end of the conversation, perhaps I will have discovered that our sales revenue is healthy enough for the advertising spend to be reallocated to a new hire desperately needed in operations. This type of exercise will often root out all too common scenarios where oversight is mistaken for good instincts.
Ultimately, our unique personalities helped to mold our roles as co-founders. Complementary skill sets can be developed organically as business grows, but fine-tuning collaborative decision-making abilities often requires enough time and experience working together to inspire success in the business and in each other.
This article has been edited.
Colbey Pfund is Co-Founder of LFNT Distribution, a leading international distributor of premium eliquid.
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