Benefits & Pitfalls of a Startup Partnership [1 of 3]

Entrepreneurs across the globe are people trying to achieve their dreams while daily facing destructive market forces. These startup heroes all must make a critical decision, should I form a partnership or do it solo?

@MSU MARKET RESEARCH MASTERS PROGRAM ADVISORY BOARD, Merrill Dubrow, at 8:00 a.m. spent an hour with me prior to our board meeting discussing what’s next.

“You know what I keep coming back to? Your partnership with Jayme. I mean, the fact that you two worked so closely…for 2 decades…and created, Decipher, a leading market research survey tool. That is cool. However, the fact that you still are friends, that is crazy. Very rarely do partnerships go that way. This is really interesting.”

Overall, 70% of partnerships fail. So, why do people try them? Because a partnership significantly increases the probability of success.

The good news is that if you structure your partnership correctly you can dramatically improve your odds of success. In fact, a report released by ASAP claims that only 20% of partnerships that have basic structure fail.

This is a 3-part blog post on…

Partnership multiples your Grit (your ability to keep going)Increased visibility into market, customers and employeesThe 3 keys to partnership success

Part 1 of 3: Grit

Everyone knows that business is hard. Elon Musk did a great job framing it,

“Running a startup is like staring in the abyss while chewing glass.”

Musk explains that the “abyss” is the lack of visibility on what is in front of us and the “chewing glass” is the 90% of the work that the founder must do is focused on the stuff that isn’t working.

Put another way, two significant factors that impact entrepreneurial success are:

Lack of visibility due to blind spots, and showing up day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year even though most the work fully sucks.

In April of 2000 I decided to quit my job in Palo Alto and start Decipher. The first critical question I had to answer was if I needed a business partner. As with most things, it didn’t take me long to answer. After working very closely with Jayme Plunkett for 4 years I was 100% confident we had a better chance of achieving Decipher’s full potential if we did it together. The good news is that I was right. Let me give you an example…

In 2003, we had our first Japanese survey. This was a big problem as we didn’t speak Japanese, there was no Google translate equivalent, we only had 24 hours to turn the project around, and we had gotten the green light on the project just prior to boarding a flight from San Francisco to Chicago. Upon landing, our first order of business was to take our cabby on a book store tour as we hunted for an English to Japanese dictionary.

Once we acquired our prey, we spent the next 12 hours in our shared hotel room (we at least had double beds) and started cracking the code. Around 2am, Jayme got the last of the survey working, QAed and sent to the customer who was completely delighted! To celebrate, Jayme began jumping from bed to bed chanting,

“I know Japanese! I know Japanese!”

If either of us would have done that work alone it would have been a TERRIBLE experience. But together, we made it fun! And when the alarm went off 3 hours later we were still laughing, albeit blurry eyed.

Benefits to Partnership Success:

Increased accountability means you get stuff done that you likely would have postponed or not done at allCo-experiencing means you have an emotional safety valve that shuts down the negative spiral that can happen with our internal dialogueDiffered risk means there is a Plan B if, God forbid, something prevents you from showing up.

Follow up post will be on building the 3-legged stool of a successful partnership.

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