Archives For Exit Strategy

One thing I have learned is that for the most part, people express the same idea but they express it in many different ways and with many different words. It is the details in the expression, the words, and combination of words used, that give a story its colour, its texture, and brings it–and its lessons–to life.

We are unique combinations of our beliefs, values and life experiences. Differences notwithstanding, we, and our experiences, are important. Therefore, there is value in compiling and sharing these stories and the multitude of ways in which ideas are expressed. Combined, these stories weave a wonderful tapestry that exemplifies just how rich and beautiful life can be.

And who knows? An inadvertent remark or detail in the retelling of a story can stand to attention and have an impact in the world of a reader. And with that exciting possibility, perhaps the most valuable thing I can do is create the space where the stories of those whom I admire and respect can be shared.

Below are people that I have come across on my own life journey whom I deeply admire and respect. Whether it be their tenacity or courage, or relentless drive or passion, each individual generously reveals a different lens in response to the questions I regularly pepper them with.

As we continue on our sharing over this anthology, I will share tidbits and anecdotes as to why I hold them in such high esteem, and what I love most about them. In turn, I hope that you do too.

What have been your best or worst business partnerships? What did you learn?

See the silver lining or the positive. It allows us to forgive and to not feel victimized.

Ai-Ling Wong. Founder at The Decorateur, President at Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

I inherited a nightmare of a business partner in my last family business, and this inspired me to start my new business.

What I have learned is that there is a silver lining in every cloud. I now thank them for what I have today (although they don’t know it), and that, due to circumstance, I embarked on what I am truly passionate about.

See the silver lining or the positive; it allows us to forgive and to not feel victimized.

There is no blame. Only learning.

Alex Louey. Founder and Managing Director at Appscore. Melbourne, Australia.

Nick Bell and I have been business partners for 10 years, and friends for much longer. The key to our success is that our friendship is stronger than our business partnership.

We’ve had our disagreements but we are: (1) prepared to not let our ego drive our decisions; (2) prepared to let the other take the lead; and (3) if one is wrong or fails, we consider it just part of the journey. There is no blame; only learning.

There are always going to be ups and downs, and sometimes when things are down they can really be down. To know that you are working with someone that “has your back” strengthens and bolsters you, makes you brave, and makes it easier to overcome the inevitable challenges. Business is like a sport and a champion team will always beat a team of champions.

The worst business partnership I have witnessed occurred when greed, ego and jealousy overshadowed the goal of creating a great business where both partners are successful. The result? One business partner walked away because they decided the negativity in their life wasn’t worth a few million dollars.

When I was presented with an opportunity to walk away, I did. It was the best thing I ever did.

Andrea Grisdale, Founder and CEO at IC Bellagio, Board Member at Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Bellagio, Lake Como.

A few years ago, despite having some previous negative experience with the same business partner, I went against my gut feeling and agreed to a new joint partnership that on paper was: (1) a match made in heaven; and (2) an easy way into companies from both a commercial and positioning point-of-view.

This joint partnership, and what was sold to me, did not match reality, so when I was presented with an opportunity to walk away, I did, and it was the best thing I ever did.

When your gut tells you to walk away, do it, no matter how attractive the situation or how many people tell you otherwise.

Partnerships that are based on shared values and mutual trust are what I admire and strive for

Daniel Dickson, Managing Director at Amarco Enterprises. Sydney, Australia.

Partnerships that are based on shared values and mutual trust are what I admire and strive for.

Every good supplier or customer relationship that I have experienced has been one that was mutually beneficial; where both parties are heading in the same direction with the same goals, and a desire for each other to be successful. Both parties must understand each other’s values, both desire the same outcomes, and understand what success looks like for each party.­­­

A trick to noticing and recognizing an unsuccessful partnership or business relationship is when you feel that the other partner is working against you or is not sharing and practicing the same values that you believe in. In these two scenarios, the business relationship is not mutually beneficial, and the partnership will not be successful.

The importance of living and breathing the values cannot be understated, and one should never steer off the concept of values-based decision making.

The best partnerships are where both parties spend the time to help one another succeed

David Fastuca. Founder at Ambisie, Founder at Locomote. Melbourne, Australia.

Partnerships are like marriages; they start with the best intentions but after time the spark that once started the relationship can wear off. That’s when things start to break down. Like a good marriage, partnerships require work from both sides.

Whenever I have experienced a partnership break down, it was due to one side always asking and taking without giving. Over time you start to feel used and then you despise the relationship.

The best partnerships are where both parties spend the time to help one another succeed. It takes work and takes time but like all great long-lasting partnerships, it can be worth it.

Choose your business partner like you choose your life partner

Demi Markogiannaki. Founder at WeTeachMe. Melbourne, Australia.

A business partnership that works well can make the journey of entrepreneurship easier and more fun, and a business partnership that doesn’t work well can make the journey of entrepreneurship destructive and filled with issues both personally and professionally. I have had the luck, and the misfortune, to have experienced both.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with partners that believed in, and stood with, me whilst I grew personally and professionally. Working with them made me feel understood, and in turn, helped me push myself beyond what I thought possible, and dare to be brave. These partnerships were marked with many moments of comfort, a psychological safety that helped me navigate failure, and joy in the celebrations of victories both big and small.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with partners that were misaligned in values. Having different values does not mean a person is “bad” per se, but it does mean that the lens in which each person views the world is different. In this partnership, I felt “useless”, was blamed and shamed for failure, and my ideas were discounted for not being “good enough”. The negativity detracted from the moments of happiness and made me feel like an imposter. It took a long time for me to draw a line in the sand, decide that “enough is enough”, and stand up for both myself and others. I wish I had done this sooner.

Choose your business partner like you choose your life partner. There will be moments of joy, and there will be moments of challenge. There will be many issues and problems to navigate, and to learn from, together. You will both grow, change and evolve. Stay united and support one another, and never let trust and respect between you both be compromised.

When the time comes that I take another of my own to market, I’ll be certain to make sure I am the person who takes it there

Jamie Skella. Chief Operating and Product Officer at Mogul, Former Chief Product Officer at Horizon State. Melbourne, Australia.

Your business partner can either lift you or suppress you.

Having founded a startup–based on a multi-year commitment to devising and building the tech that underpinned it— I willingly agreed to the appointment of another individual to take the helm as CEO. In hindsight, despite my reservations, agreeing to this was born out of a then-insecurity about my own ability to run the company.

It was a tough lesson—one that cost the business gravely—and it left me bitterly vindicated and more ready than I ever was to trust myself in the future. While most of my recent years have been spent working on the ideas of others, when the time comes that I take another of my own to market, I’ll be certain to make sure I am the person who takes it there.

The success, or failure, of business partnerships starts and ends with values

Kym Huynh. Founder at WeTeachMe, President at Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Melbourne, Australia.

The success, or failure, of business partnerships starts and ends with values.

When there is an alignment of values, there is a strong foundation of trust and respect, an environment with ample opportunity for building deeper bonds, and as a result, a resilience for weathering the inevitable storms that will come.

Building a business, when there is a misalignment of values, is akin to building a fortress, that is perched on top of a haphazard rickety wooden stand, on an ever-changing sandy shoreline. Communication becomes more difficult, and this breeds an environment where anger and resentment festers. In this scenario, nobody wins.

When I assess potential business partnerships, the questions I ask myself are:

  1. Are the lens in which I, and my potential business partner, look at the world the same?
  2. Are the rules by which I, and my potential business partner, live and experience life the same?
  3. Are the methods in which I, and my potential business partner, make decisions, guided by a similar set of values?
  4. Do I, and my potential business partner, live and breathe a similar set of values?
  5. What are the differences between my values and that of my potential business partner? Can these difference in values peacefully coexist?
  6. What are the things I admire and don’t admire, about my potential business partner? If I dig deeper, what values do they hint at or uncover? Are the differences cogent with my values?

Building a business requires a tremendous amount of time and energy. Shared values are critical, and form the foundation of what one builds. If I am to make the decision to spend a tremendous amount of time and energy, to ensure that they do not go to waste, I’ll make sure to get the foundations (values) right first and foremost.

Every partnership must start with an aligned set of values. From these values, we align direction, and from this direction, we align our respective roles

Raymond Chou. Founder and CEO at Infront Consulting APAC. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

I found the business partner for my second business in a drinking buddy. Over our shared time, he encouraged me to start the business; he was to contribute the capital and I was to contribute the blood, sweat, and tears. We defined our roles clearly whereby I would take care of sales and be the face of the company whilst he would take care of administration and finance. It sounded like the perfect plan.

The years went by and the business did not perform to expectation. There was a lot of naming, blaming, and shaming: (1) “You should run the department faster!”; (2) “We are not getting paid and cash flow is tight because you are not invoicing fast enough.”; (3) “You should push more sales!; and (4) “You are spending too much and not getting enough in!” The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred when he believed that we should “give incentives” to our customers to get deals. I was firmly against this idea.

Unfortunately what started out as a great friendship ended in a broken business partnership. We no longer talk and this saddens me greatly.

My greatest lesson in partnership is that every partnership must start with an aligned set of values. From these values, we align direction, and from this direction, we align our respective roles.

I am inclined to suggest that business partnerships are more delicate than marriages in the sense that in marriage when things don’t go according to plan, both parties have love to fall back on. In a business partnership, it is WORK and requires digging deeper. It is not enough to say, “That’s a great idea. Let’s do it together!” I believe the lack of digging deeper here is the reason why so many business partnerships fail.

I now employ a “dating period” whereby all partners agree to a 1 year period where we work on the business with no shares in the company. The person who creates the idea holds 100% during the first year, and a contract is drawn up that stipulates after 1 year, an evaluation is done; and if values, directions, and roles are still aligned–and all parties feel happy moving forward–shares are allocated.

The best business partnership for me occurred when partnering with people that had completely opposite skill sets

Ron Lovett. Founder and Chief Alignment Officer at Connolly Owens, Founder and Chief Community Officer at Vida Living, Author at Outrageous Empowerment. Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The best business partnership for me occurred when partnering with people that had completely opposite skill sets.

I previously owned a construction company and my partner focused on construction, margins, operations, and the management of suppliers whereas I focused on strategy, business development, HR, and finance. This worked so well. I’ll never partner with someone who has a similar set of skills to me.

The worst partnerships I have experienced were due to not flushing out our long-term vision (exit strategy etc.) and not turning our eyes to our values from day dot. These have caused breakups for me within the first twelve months.

Plan as though it will fail as the odds are you will be right

Tony Falkenstein. Founder and CEO at Just Life Group Limited, Founder and CEO at Just Water, President at Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Auckland, New Zealand.

Many business partnerships are formed because your partner is your friend. Being a friend at 21, prior to family and kids, the odds are against the partnership surviving.

There are two inherent problems:

  • If you both have the same skills, what have you achieved? You just have two payrolls to cover rather than one.
  • Between the ages of 20-30, your life is full of changes. What you dream of when you are 21 is completely different to when you are 30.

Once you have obligations such as a lifelong partner or children, you cannot afford to be living off the smell of an oily rag. In contrast, your business partner might be quite happy proceeding that way.

I am personally against business partnerships, even at any age. It just becomes another hurdle to jump over, and you are always compromising, otherwise, you end up with resentment and as enemies.

If you must get into a business partnership, the most important clause is the “exit” clause. Plan as though it will fail as the odds are you will be right.

The most powerful gift my business partner gave me was the experience of depth rather than breadth

Tui Cordemans. Founder at Koh Living. Melbourne, Australia.

The most powerful gift my business partnership gave me was the experience of depth rather than breadth.

Because I had someone who both relied on me and gave me much, I did not have the option to jump ship whenever I wanted a new experience.

This partnership taught me that one gains the most out of life when one goes deep and some of my learnings from this (resilience and how to live a life of meaning) is priceless.

What do you think?

Do you agree or violently disagree with anything shared in this article? Or do you have any of your own stories that you want to share? Pop them in the comments and I will personally reply.

Call to action 

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“Nothing in my last 7 years has been one major step. Everything has been tiny, tiny steps.” – Ben Cohn

“Starting a business with the view as to who will buy that business, or what industry is going to buy that business, is a really important point. This shapes the way you will to develop the business so that it eventually has a buyer.” – Ben Cohn

“The first-year and a half or two years were quite easy for me because I knew I only had to work really hard, and that it was just dependant on myself and my business partner. As the business grew, we got staff, we operated in 3 cities, and now we’ve got 49 full-time team members. People have things going on all the time in their lives, and you cannot carry all of that load. The interpersonal stuff that happens when dealing with people and work dynamics, I find it challenging.” – Ben Cohn

“As time goes on, the odds and the stakes are much, much higher. To be frank, I don’t find that it gets easier with time.” – Ben Cohn

“I’ve seen clients come in with a great idea and I desperately try to convince them to go and try to talk to their market. And they come back and say that they have talked to their market. And what they actually did was go to five people, who already like them, and said, “I’ve got a great idea. It’s going to be awesome. Do you like it?” and those people didn’t want to hurt their feelings and so the feedback they got was just rubbish. What the problem interview does is that it forces you to not show anything. It forces you to literally go to a group of people and just classify and prioritise the problem and just get a real sense of what is causing pain. If there is not pain in the market, it’s really hard to sell to.” – Ben Stickland

“Go and talk to people. Don’t just say, “I’ve got a great idea, I know my market, and I’m going to be determined.” That little phrase is highly correlated to losing lots of money. (Just on my experience and my observation.) Get out of the building. Talk to five customers with problem-solution interviews and in most cases, it will change your idea.” – Ben Stickland

“Really trust your gut instinct. We all have a very strong feeling in our gut as to who we really are and what we want to do in life. We get clouded by the expectation of what we should and shouldn’t do. Being in touch with your gut feeling as to what your calling is, and what you need to do, is a very powerful thing; it’s a very hard thing to do because there is so much noise around us.” – Ben Cohn

“I hire on culture; I do not hire on skill. In our business, we feel we can train anyone up. I hire for culture, and skill is secondary. There has to be an interpersonal connection.” – Ben Cohn

“The highest rate of success in tech startups is two people, not one, not three; and it’s people who have known each other for a lot of years, not people who have just met. Because when you know someone for years, you actually go into it knowing their faults and you don’t have unresolved expectations of them.” – Ben Stickland

With thanks to

Ben Cohn in a Co-Founder of TAXIBOX, the mobile self-storage solution that brings yellow cubes of joy to your front door. Ben did a lot of on-the-ground research to jumpstart his business. He explains his approach to making sure TAXIBOX customers always have a remarkable experience.

Ben Stickland is the Founder of Alliance Software and has spent a lot of time and money in the startup space. Ben says the first three years of business are like walking up a see-saw, then things start to level out and become a bit easier. He says he loves running experiments to see what’s going to work in his business.

About Masters Series by WeTeachMe

Masters Series is a show about inspiring entrepreneurs, creative thinkers, and visionary dreamers, and the stories behind how they built their companies.

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Question of the day

What was your favourite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.