“I am not going to join you unless we can become partners,” I said to Richard Brock. I was a twenty-two-year-old with no experience in business and lots of ambition working as a junior accountant in a CPA firm.
Was I nuts saying that?
When I think back to that moment, I can’t believe I said it.
I thought I understood what it meant to be a partner in a business.
I thought I understood ownership and the responsibilities which come with it.
I thought I understood the struggles in building a long-term working relationship and friendship by being in each other’s space every day.
I thought I understood the challenges of building a business when there is no money and slow paying customers.
Honestly, I didn’t know any of this.
Richard said, “If you join me and prove yourself valuable to the business, I’ll make you a partner.”
I had to trust him on this. I was committing to leave the CPA profession and move from Miami, Florida to Mobile, Alabama to work in a new industry called the software business. Basically, change all my clearly defined life plans.
Here’s why I did it.
I loved working with computers and designing software. It was the most fun work I had ever done, and I was going to do it with a guy I loved to be around (and still do to this day).
I quit my job, packed up my Honda Civic with everything I owned, and drove to Mobile, Alabama.
Working with Richard was way more than anything I envisioned. I knew nothing, and he challenged me to do everything.
I had to learn really fast to survive.
I loved it. With no responsibilities except work, I was working eighteen hour days, six days a week. Richard would take most of Sunday off to go to church and spend some time with Patsy and his daughter, Beth.
One day, Richard decided we needed to move the business to Atlanta. He said, “We are losing deals to the competitor in Dallas. The market thinks he is smarter than we are just because he’s in Dallas and we are in Mobile, Alabama.”
So we packed everything up and moved. When we settled in Atlanta, it was just the two of us left. The other couple of guys wanted to stay in Alabama. It was a restart.
After a year, it wasn’t going well.
We were trying to build a new business in the midst of a deep recession. Looking back, I am not sure how we made it. Since it was my first recession and first startup, I just thought this was how hard it was to build something from scratch.
In our darkest hour, right after the third banker denied us a loan, Richard called me to his office.
“Do you believe in me and this business?” he asked.
“I do,” I said. “In fact, I love what we are doing, and I know we’ll be successful.”
He said, “Today I want to make you my partner. I’ll sell you 40% of the business for $40,000. What do you think of that?”
“Sounds good, but I don’t have $40,000,” I said.
“I’ll take an interest-bearing note for $40,000 with the stock as collateral. If you leave, I will cancel the note, and you give me the stock back,” he said.
From that start, our relationship flourished, and the business began to grow. Three years later we sold the company. Little did I know that would be the result of leaving everything and everybody I knew. Incredible.
This story came to mind because I got a call from Tom, a friend and brilliant entrepreneur. Ten years ago, he started a business which is now a great success.
Five years ago, he hired a young man who turned into his “Charlie.” This young man was inexperienced but would do whatever was necessary to build the business. During that time, he grew from a salesman to the chief operating officer.
Just recently, this man asked Tom if he would consider making him a partner in the business. He loved working with Tom and was making great money and enjoyed all the responsibilities.
“The problem is,” he explained, “people are trying to recruit me with some exciting offers. But I want to be partners with you and grow this company together.”
It wasn’t even a decision for Tom.
He met with me and asked if I could help him accomplish this. We talked it through, and he walked away with a couple of options.
The two of them met and within five minutes they had a deal for a new partnership. My friend Tom never looked back. He knew this was the right thing for him and the business.
It struck me after meeting with Tom that this is how partnerships should work. How they should come together.
Here are the steps to a successful long-term partnership.
- There is that initial friendship. You genuinely like each other.
- The new employee proves to be invaluable in the short-term and long-term. They are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.
- Working together each day results in deep friendship and a mutually beneficial business relationship. You see yourselves as partners even before the partnership conversation takes place.
- Over time, you, the entrepreneur, treat them like a partner. You find yourself having those insider conversations. You are finishing each other’s sentences. Something happens which causes the conversation to take place.
- In my case, it was the business looking really shaky. In Tom’s case, it was his key employee getting recruited away. In both situations, the conversation of partnership became real. You realize you can’t really live without each other.
Take a look at your business.
Who is making it work?
Is it really just you?
Who were you thinking about as you read this article?
That’s your future partner.
Don’t let ‘em get away. Start having those partnership discussions today. Time to get married.