Starting, operating, and scaling a business can be challenging, especially if you’re doing it all on your own. A partner can help share responsibilities, provide invaluable insights, and help you along your startup’s journey.
However, finding the right partner is easier said than done. It’s a big world out there, and it’s difficult to hunt down the perfect companion to help launch your business. Finding a good business partner can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. It’s there—you just need to keep looking.
But where to look? And what exactly should you be looking for?
Those are the questions we set out to answer in this post.
Below, we’ll show you where to find a business partner and which traits to look for. You’ll leave with the know-how you need to successfully find a partner who’ll help (not hurt) your business.
Table of Contents
Do You Need a Business Partner?
Before we get too into the weeds, let’s take a step back and answer a critical question: do you even need a business partner?
Plenty of entrepreneurs have the talent and resources to start a business all on their own. They don’t need any help. Do you?
There’s no right or wrong answer here, but take a minute to think about why you want a business partner:
- Do you feel like you’re drowning in high-level responsibilities?
- Are you struggling to navigate a new industry or product model?
- Do you need more capital to launch your business?
- Are you short on strategic connections and lack a network?
- Do you need moral support or someone to bounce ideas off of?
Sometimes, bringing on a business partner isn’t the right direction. You might be better off delegating a difficult task to a freelancer or finding a mentor to answer questions when things get tough.
Giving away equity (especially a big chunk of it) isn’t something you should take lightly.
Benefits of a Business Partner
Business partners can make or break your business. Find the right one, and they can skyrocket your success. Bring on the wrong one, and they could tank your business and make your entrepreneur journey a living you-know-what.
All that’s to say, bringing on a partner isn’t a bad idea—just make sure you have a good reason why. Here are some of those reasons:
- Share the workload, especially when you’re starting.
- Have another mind to bounce off ideas and strategies.
- Make decisions knowing it’s not all on your shoulders.
- It allows you to scale faster and take on more responsibilities.
- You can tap into more networks and connections.
- Sharing the financial risk of starting a business.
7 Things to Look for in a Business Partner
Determined to bring on a business partner? Good for you. Now it’s time to find the right one.
Your business partner is going to be someone you spend a lot of time with. You’ll probably end up spending more time with this person than with your spouse, kids, or dog.
You’ll want to make sure your personalities mesh, and you’ll need someone who can self-manage and bring new skills to the team. There’s a lot to look for, so we tried to narrow down your criteria to 7 major characteristics:
1. Vision for the Business
What does your partner want from the business? Are they looking to stick it out for the long haul and create a company made to last, or are they hoping to build and exit as soon as possible?
Ensure you’re on the same page. For example, if you’re looking to build a life-long business and your partner wants to make a quick buck, you’re going to butt heads quickly when it comes to planning.
Ask your potential partner about their goals. Where do they see the business in 1 year, 5, or 10? What does “success” look like to them?
Remember, there’s not a right answer here. You just need to ensure you share the same vision. Personalities don’t need to match exactly, nor do communication styles—but your vision for the business needs to be the same. No deviations.
2. Communication Style
Does your partner prefer to talk in person or have hard conversations through email? Are they one to sit back and quietly observe or bring up concerns immediately?
You likely won’t find someone with the exact communication style as you, and that’s OK. There’s no good, better, or best way—but you need to ensure your styles will mesh.
For example, if you loathe talking on the phone, you’ll want to find a partner who’s not going to dial your number multiple times a day. And if you like to spend most of your day heads down cranking out work, you’ll want to find a partner who won’t tap on your shoulder or knock on the door “just to chat.”
Has your partner founded a business before? Have you? You don’t need to necessarily have the same experience level—just look at the founders and the investors on Shark Tank.
If you can find an experienced partner who’s already built and sold multiple million-dollar businesses, good for you. However, unless you’ve concocted a brilliant, revolutionary idea, a partner might want someone of a similar caliber.
While you’re researching potential partners, be open and transparent about your experience, too. The partnership needs to be a good fit for both parties—not just you.
Your partner should complement your skillset—not replicate it. You don’t want someone just like you. You want someone who can add something new and valuable to the table.
For example, if you’re a developer, you might need a marketing professional or business strategist as a partner. On the other side, you might be a marketing genius who needs a designer or a product manager to help flesh out a product idea.
While it’d be nice if personal and business stayed separate, that’s just not the case. Ensure your personalities will mesh when you spend hours, days, weeks, and years together. You don’t need to be best friends, but you do need to get along (and preferably like each other).
Remember, you’re not looking for a romantic partner or a soulmate. You’re looking for a business partner. You want someone you can talk with openly who shares your views on risk, crisis management, and work-life balance.
While there are strict legal requirements for what you can and can’t ask when interviewing an employee, it’s a bit more open when considering a cofounder. Ask the hard questions to figure out more about your potential partner.
Will you split the profits 50/50? Will someone be doing more and thus deserve more equity? What about employees—will you share equity with them down the road?
Finances can be one of the biggest causes of partner breakups—nip it in the bud from the get-go to prevent it from causing an irreparable rift. Don’t wait to have these conversations later. Get on the same page about equity before you sign any paperwork.
7. Skeletons in the Closet
No one is perfect. Everyone has things they’re not proud of, but you both need to be aware—you don’t want any surprises later.
It might sound intrusive, but there are things you need to know before forming a legal financial relationship with another person:
- Has this person been arrested? For what?
- Have they ever filed for bankruptcy?
- Does the candidate have a positive reputation?
- Does the candidate frequently job hop?
- What do old employers have to say about the person?
Don’t just visualize what you’re looking for in a business partner—write it down. When evaluating potential partners, you should be checking the boxes (literally) to see if they’re the right fit.
You won’t be able to gauge your partner simply by looking at their resume or LinkedIn profile. You’ll need to chat with them. Come up with a list of questions to ask that’ll help you uncover important characteristics.
You don’t want your partner relationship to end up like that one Tinder date. Spend some time getting to know them. Ask the hard questions now instead of later.
How to Find a Business Partner
Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to go searching. But where to begin?
Fortunately, finding a business partner in 2023 is easier than ever. You don’t need to attend every industry-relevant conference, nor do you need to have a crazy-connected mother-in-law.
Here are a few ways you can find a good business partner:
Post on LinkedIn and Facebook that you’re looking for a business partner. You might find a college friend or an old colleague who’s interested.
Social media also lets you harness the power of your network. You might not directly know someone who’s interested in partnering with you, but your network might. Give them an opportunity to look for you—there’s a chance they could know the perfect person.
Look around in startup-friendly communities for partners. For example, you might find a good business partner in the comments of a Foundr Instagram post or article.
You could also try formal networking sites like CoFoundersLab. CoFoundersLab is an entrepreneur networking site that provides services like partner matchmaking. Stealth and FoundersNation are other global startup communities that can help you find cofounders and connect with freelancers.
Search relevant groups on LinkedIn. You might find someone looking for a new gig who could be a good fit.
Colleagues and Employees
Have you ever worked with or managed someone who might be the right fit? Think of your favorite coworkers and what they could bring to the table. There’s a good chance you can find a previous colleague (or even a current coworker) who’s qualified and interested.
You could dig a level deeper and ask a trusted colleague for any recommendations. If they’ve enjoyed working with you in the past, they might be willing to refer you to another friend or associate of theirs.
Consider past managers, too. You’ll already have a good idea about the working relationship—now they just need to check the other boxes.
They say you shouldn’t mix your personal and business life, but that’s just not true. Friends can make great business partners—just make sure you’re choosing them because of their potential, not because they’re your high school buddy.
Check in on your high school friends and college chums to see where they’re at in life. You might find that your best friend on the lacrosse team is now an entrepreneur, too. LinkedIn is an excellent tool for doing some of this (totally approved but kind of stalky) research.
If you’ve worked with a mentor for years, they might trust you enough to become a business partner. Or they might mentor other individuals who’d be a good fit for you to connect with. Talk to your mentors and let them know what you’re thinking. This can open doors to new business opportunities you might not have considered before.
When you have a business partner in mind, share it with your mentor. They could help you see things you might not have noticed (or wanted to notice) before.
While you’re at it, talk to your financial advisor or attorney (if you have one). They likely deal with other similar people, and they might be able to give you some leads or at least spread the word.
Advice from Real-Life Business Partners
Finding the perfect business partner sounds simple in theory, but does it actually work? Here are examples of co-founders we’ve interviewed that are making their business (and personal) relationships thrive.
Fall in Love with Working Together
Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez started Back to the Roots by asking the same question in their business class–how can you grow mushrooms from used coffee grounds? So instead of taking their jobs in investment baking, the two friends began their journey of building an organic gardening brand for the next generation. Back to the Roots is America’s #1 organic gardening company and doubled its business 4 years in a row. They offer a wide range of grow kits, seeds, soil, and more to empower people to experience the magic of growing their food from inside their homes.
“We spent hours brainstorming, kicking around ideas,” Arora says. “I think we both, more than the idea, fell in love with starting to work with each other.”
“I think we both, more than the idea, fell in love with starting to work with each other.”
Find Someone with Product Expertise
Brittany Stewart is the co-founder of BURST Oral Care, one of the fastest-growing ecommerce businesses in the United States. She met her cofounder, Hamish Khayat, through a mutual friend, and it was a match made in startup heaven. Hamish had a revolutionary toothbrush prototype, and Brittany had the skills to make it a business.
“Hamish had a product,” Stewart says. “And he needed someone else to make it a business.”
Balance Your Skills
Michelle Zatlyn and her co-founders were outsiders when they moved to Silicon Valley to launch their web security startup. It was 2009, in the middle of a recession, but the team knew their visceral early-user feedback validated the need to be bold. In 2010, Cloudflare launched its first freemium product and hasn’t looked back.
Today, Cloudflare has four million customers worldwide, surpassed a $1 billion revenue run rate, and employs 3,200 team members.
The co-founders met in the hallway at Harvard University. With Prince’s and Holloway’s technical backgrounds and Zatlyn’s product management and marketing experience, the three classmates set out to make the business vision of Cloudflare a reality.
“Anything connected to the internet uses Cloudflare,” Zatlyn says. “We help make sure you’re protected from online malicious behavior, and we help make sure [your website is] fast and reliable. And it all started from this exchange in the hallway more than 12 years ago.”
“…it all started from this exchange in the hallway more than 12 years ago.”
Put Your Friendship First
If you’re young and looking to start a business with a friend, here’s the pathway to do it successfully. Chris Savage and Brendan Schwartz were friends at Brown University when they began dreaming about working together. After quitting their jobs, they created Wistia, a complete video marketing platform that helps teams create, host, and measure the impact of their videos — all in one place.
Now, almost two decades into their business, Chris and Brendan still love working together and are just getting started.
Savage says their friendship has remained the top priority throughout the past two decades; otherwise, they would have sold.
“It also just imbued the business and the culture with this idea that it should actually be fun. The work itself should be fun,” Savage says. “If the work itself, the problem solving, and the building is fun, then you [can] be really persistent. You can have a lasting friendship, but you can also have a lasting company.”
Business Partner FAQs
Should I have a trial period for a business partner?
Trial periods may sound like legalese, but they protect you and your potential business partner from getting stuck. You can make trial periods as formal or informal as you want. Typically, if large sums of investment capital are involved, you should get a lawyer to draft a partnership agreement. The contract can include a trial period where a business partner can pull out of the deal and regain a portion of their monetary investment or forfeit any future profit sharing. If your startup is bootstrapped, this can be a scheduled touch base 60-90 days in which you reaccess your roles in the business.
What should my partnership agreement include?
A partnership agreement's makeup will depend on the type of business. Still, the rule of thumb is to include these items: goals for the business, salaries, roles and responsibilities, equity percentages, ownership of the brand, trademarks, property, equipment, etc., and exit strategies.
How can I break up with my business partner?
The it's not you, it's me line will work as effectively in the business world as it does in dating. Hopefully, you've thought ahead and included exit steps in your partnership agreement or outlined a trial period. It will still be a difficult conversation, and honesty is always the best policy. If you have a board of directors or shared mentor, they can help moderate the process of ending the partnership. Remember, the reasons to break up with your business partner should be more than I don't like them, you'll need a solid explanation of why it's not working out. And maybe, it's you, not them, that needs to leave the business.
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