You cannot build a company with someone you don’t know, only because she asked you (and it has boosted your self-esteem) or because he vaguely seems to have desired skills for your project. You have to know the people you will build something with. “Thank you Captain Obvious” you are going to say, but what does it precisely mean actually?
Know each other well
When looking for a partner, most of the time, we instinctively contact a close friend or relative to get advice about our project. And if she seems to be interested — at least, this is what we expect — we enter in the Danger Zone . I call it the danger zone because if she accepts to hit the road, this could potentially break everything between her and you.
I am pretty sure you have already experienced living with friends as roommates or spending a holiday week with some of your friends. If you did, you must be convinced that you don’t really know someone before having lived with her. Living with someone you barely know could be really disappointing by revealing annoying habits or behaviors (she chews with her mouth open, he forgets to put the toilet seat down, she lets toothpaste half-open, [put something really annoying here], etc.). Know that the same phenomenon could be reproduced between company’s founders. You are going to work very closely and, when stress, money and deadlines come into play, you have the perfect mix to reveal the deepest human feelings.
When we decided to set up TailorDev, after having evaluated different configurations with different people, we ended up with a two-headed structure composed of William & myself. Thanks to our Clermont’ech co-founding experience, we already knew each other well from a personal point-of-view and we appreciated working together on common projects. Having a past work experience among the founders is a huge advantage.
To make a long story short, before creating your company, take the time to have long chat sessions with your partner to talk openly about yourselves. Choose someone with whom you are able to communicate easily, in other words, talk about everything without feeling uncomfortable.
PS: no, singing Frozen with your child and enjoying it is not shameful 😉.
Share the same vision
Business partnership implies human beings associated to achieve a common goal. As every community (a music band, a theater company, etc.), you have to build things upon strongly shared values. The first thing you should do with your potential partners is to write down what must be the values your company must spread and where it must go. This Manifesto will be the only document you will refer to when a new decision will be made.
Writing a Manifesto was the first thing we did with Clermont’ech co-founders. Clermont’ech is not a company, but the same idea applies: write down what defines your partnership, where do you want to go and how to do it, and stick to it. With William, we knew our respective commitment in causes, so deciding that Open Science will be our credo was an easy task.
Take the time to compare your visions and contribute equally to this document, because once accepted, you will have to stick to it. Don’t lie to yourself and your partner. Have a clear shared vision that will hold no matter what will happen.
At the beginning of your company’s life, you will start with limited resources, i.e. your partners, yourself, and hopefully a few thousand euros in your pockets (for the lucky ones).
For IT-related businesses, bootstrapping a product in a garage is the funny part but it does not make money magically or neither runs your company. You will have to agree on your actions spectra in the company, e.g., who will be in charge of the market research and sales, who will federate a community around your values, who has an experience with administrative tasks, and who will be dedicated to the technical part.
If you are not able to fill the whole spectra, then you might be in the wrong configuration. At TailorDev, the split was quite natural given our skills, past experiences, and desires. William is way more in development and day-to-day customer interactions than in admin, and I spend more time running the company and looking for business opportunities. Both of us contribute to the company’s communication. That works well so far.
The ideal partnership might be reached when founders have a strong core intersection by their skills (that may be technical) with individual skills that make them complementary.
Be your partners’ first fan
When talking with other entrepreneurs about their partners, sometimes you may have heard: “Erf, my partner…”. When an entrepreneur is ranting about his partners, you know things are not going well. This must not happen. Instead, admire and trust your partners.
If you loose the light that shines in your eyes when talking about your partners, then you have missed something and your partnership is unbalanced.
Be permutable (at least temporarily)
As a founder, you will eventually need to be able to temporarily take a new position in your company. For example, you should know how to make an invoice for the customer that cannot wait or else credits will be lost by the end of the day. You should also know that it is definitely OK to take holidays, the company will not get stuck, and life continues.
For example, last December I broke my right hand and was unable to type properly on a keyboard for a month. If you add painkillers to the sauce, I was partially off during this period. Hopefully, being a remote-first company helped us to write procedures and automate many things beforehand, hence William was able to run the company on its own.
Even if you must be complementary, you also need to be permutable. One way to achieve that is to document / automate most of your daily (boring) tasks, and over-communicate. Co-founders do not own X percents of the company, each owns 100% of the company and are committed to it.
We have been asked multiple times about how we decided to bootstrap TailorDev, hence this blog post about partnership. We have been extremely lucky to meet each other, which does not mean we are successful (yet 😛) but we did things we could not have done otherwise. That is what having the right partners allows: reaching unobtainable results.
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