Few people know that for the two most successful businesses I’ve run so far, I actually partnered with someone I had never met before (a different person, each time).
Both times it was practically on a whim, with relatively little due diligence. Just one person’s word and another’s.
But I continued to work with them and we successfully grew the businesses together.
Now, this goes against what you typically hear. It’s usually said that getting into a business with someone is like getting married; you need to vet them thoroughly.
All of that leads us to believe that we should be highly selective with who we partner with.
But I think there is such a thing as being “too” selective to the point of procrastinating, and that’s why I want to talk about how, both times, my partner and I made it work from the get go.
How I Met My Partners
Let me start briefly with NinjaOutreach, which I don’t intend to be the focus of this article.
In short – I went on a podcast with a guy named Mark who invited me to speak about content marketing.
After the call, we talked about some tech ideas we had and decided to start a software business together. He knew a coder, I needed one, and neither of us felt like working alone – voila!
Since Mark lived in London, it wasn’t until about 3 YEARS into running the business that I actually met him in person whilst doing some traveling in Europe.
We grew the business and after about 4 years (yes, just one year after meeting each other), we sold it for a 7-figure exit.
Obviously I’m glossing over a lot, but as much as there were ups and downs and challenges in the business, for most of that time, our relationship was amicable and respectful. We had disagreements, sure, but I don’t ever remember fighting.
Did I feel like we were married?
We were just two reasonable people who did what we could to work on the business and manage our lives in the process.
After NinjaOutreach, I started Shortlist.
The Shortlist Partnership and The Importance of Networking
Some months had gone by and Mark and I were not actively talking to each other. Again, no falling out, just time passing.
I was active in an entrepreneur’s Facebook group where David Henzel invited some people to test out his lead generation service (TaskDrive) and provide their feedback on it.
I gave him some advice on the customer experience and we casually started talking about what I was working on. I mentioned the link-building service I was experimenting with, which at the time was Shortlist, even though I didn’t know it yet.
David was excited about the idea. To be honest, even more excited than I was.
He knew a lot of people in his network who could benefit from it, and he believed that he could drive customers.
David is a bit older than me and had some successes under his belt as well, such as MaxCDN. And every time we would talk, he would strike me as a reasonable guy with a knack for business.
Now, networking is something I generally struggle with, and I knew that a serviced based business like Shortlist would thrive with someone who had a strong network. After all, services are sold primarily through trust.
But David was German living in Turkey, so once again, we weren’t going to be meeting for awhile.
Nevertheless, after working 4 years with Mark, and always building remote teams, it didn’t seem like too much of a stretch to see if lightening could strike twice.
So after some negotiating, we agreed to partner 50/50 and start Shortlist. Again, most people would recommend vesting when it comes to taking on partners (and to be honest this IS what we should have done), but we just skipped all that and went for it.
At David’s suggestion, we called the business Shortlist. Not for any particular reason, but just because David already owned the domain – so why not?
We agreed that David was going to focus on Biz Dev, leveraging his network to promote Shortlist, and I would run operations, growing the team and refining the service.
Low and behold, David’s early contacts and referrals were the main reasons we were able to grow the service, and to this day, some of David’s initial referrals, or referrals from his referrals, are our current customers.
And to give myself credit, I did a more than fine job with the operations, and have since grown the team to 18 employees and an office in Skopje, Macedonia.
Flexibility and Adaptability
As the company grew and evolved, some changes had to be made, so it was important to be flexible and understanding. This is honestly the main overlap in both NinjaOutreach and Shortlist that allowed the partnership to work.
For example, over the years Shortlist grew and we introduced other means of client acquisition, such as outbound. David’s referrals became slightly less important for the overall growth of the company, and while he was spending more time on his other businesses, I was spending more time operationally on Shortlist.
This led to introducing salaries for the two of us (when running an LLC, these are referred to as guaranteed payments).
So, although we are both 50/50 owners, my salary is higher to account for the fact that I’m working on the business much more than David.
Contributions Beyond Business
It would be unfair to say that David is not contributing in other ways beyond BizDev.
For example, he has hosted the team twice on his property in Turkey for awesome team retreats, which are always major inflection points to organizing the company and committing to a strategy. He has also attended other team retreats, such as in Rome.
More importantly, he has contributed a lot with mapping out our mission and vision for the company – two things I’ve always struggled with. It was David’s suggestion (actually a year before we actually did it) to commit to making agencies our primary focus.
Now, when all is said and done, I don’t necessarily recommend working with people you’ve never met before.
That’s not the reason for our success, actually, it’s more like we made it work in spite of that.
But what would be the alternative?
I could have waited to find the perfect person close by and delayed the opportunity for months or even years. Maybe I’d never start Shortlist at all.
There are many ways to get things done, and most people would never consider working with someone they’ve never met or with someone who doesn’t live near them.
But I’ve shown that this can be done – not once, but twice.
It comes down to having the right expectations about what you want and need from the other person and making sure that their skillset aligns with your needs, and vice versa.
Was it General Patton who said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”?
Well, it wasn’t violently executed, but it was good enough and we went for it.
And I’m glad we did.