TSheets CEO Matt Rissell was told to “never, ever, ever” form a business partnership. Ever. He was told this by his business professor, who devoted an entire lesson to those three words: “Never, ever, ever.” And, for several years after graduating from business school, Matt took that advice to heart. “Whenever someone broached the idea of a forming a business partnership, I ran like hell,” he said. “To me, partnerships were the kiss of death for a company — and something to be avoided at all costs.”
With that in mind, it might come as a surprise that several years later, in 2006, TSheets was founded on a partnership between Matt Rissell and Brandon Zehm. Read the full story on Forbes.
When we asked him to reflect on his decision to defy his professor’s advice, he replied, “Man, I’m glad I didn’t listen to him.”
Matt and Brandon’s partnership has been nothing short of successful, and their company has followed suit. But that’s certainly not the norm. Partnerships require an astronomical amount of dedication and trust. And, unfortunately, they don’t always work out. In fact, research suggests that nearly 80 percent of business partnerships bite the dust within the first year.
With that, here’s a few signs that your business partnership might be on the fast track for failure.
1. You don’t really like each other.
You and your business partner don’t have to be best friends (in fact, according to Matt, you really shouldn’t be — “that usually results in the demise of your business AND your friendship,” he said) but you do have to be able to tolerate each other. In this scenario, it’s best to follow the advice of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. Before Tony hires anyone to work within his business, he asks himself, “Is this someone I would choose to hang out with or grab a drink with?” If the answer is no, they don’t make the cut. After all, business partners spend more time together than they do with arguably anyone else (including their spouses) — so if you don’t at least like each other, you’re going to have problems right out of the gate.
2. Your partner always agrees with you.
This might seem like a good thing, but it’s really not. One of the main benefits of having a business partner is having someone who knows and cares about your business and can poke holes in your theories, challenge your perceptions, and improve your ideas. If your business partner does nothing but agree with you, or is slow to voice an opposing opinion, you (and your company) can never grow.
3. Your partnership has become a pissing match.
At some point, the dynamic changed. Now, rather than collaborating on new ideas and seeking out new ways to grow your business, you and your partner spend most of your time fighting over who wears the pants in the partnership and whose title outranks whose. You endure daily arguments over things like whose name should come first on the website, or what to print on your business cards. No matter how or when it happened, you or your partner lost sight of what’s really important: the company. The only way to come back from this situation is for both partners to set their egos aside — set clearly defined roles, clear titles, and remember that partnerships are based on an astronomical amount of respect.
4. You don’t communicate.
Matt has said it time and time again: “A partnership is like a marriage” … in more ways than one. And, as any couple knows, the key to a happy marriage lies in communication. Unsurprisingly, that’s also the key to a successful partnership. Partners must be willing to communicate with one another, and communicate often. This means checking in every day, voicing concerns the moment they pop into your head, and hearing the other out. It’s not always easy — those conversations can be quite difficult — but, in this way, bad feelings aren’t given the chance to fester, shit isn’t given the chance to hit the fan, and partners are enabled to solve problems proactively.
5. You don’t trust each other with company decisions.
“Partnerships are built on trust and respect,” said Matt, “more trust and respect than you could ever imagine.” So if you don’t trust your partner to make decisions in the best interest of the company, without checking in with you first, you might have a problem. Long story short, you should trust your partner enough to ask for your opinion when it’s needed … but make their own calls when it’s not. You should respect that they’ve got the skills and know-how needed to make a good decision for your business when push comes to shove — otherwise, you might find yourself back up at number 3.
In Matt’s case, his business partnership spelled out success for TSheets — and if you want to count yourself among the survivors, he’s got a few tips. Check out his article on Forbes, “Partnerships Are the Kiss of Death, Here’s Why I Formed One Anyway.”