Choosing the Right E-Commerce Business Partner
Last month, I had the pleasure interviewing a number of experts about starting, operating, and exiting an Internet business. Among those experts were two Erics: my partner, Eric Horvitz, and Eric Koefoot, the co-founder and Managing Partner of PublicRelay and the former CFO of Washingtonpost Newsweek Interactive (WPNI).
Though they view the issue from different perspectives, one being an attorney and the other an experienced Internet entrepreneur, both men highlighted choosing the right business partner as one of the first and most important decisions a budding Internet entrepreneur must make. Given the time spent together in both good times and bad, a business partnership is often compared to a marriage, so to find the right business “spouse,” a new Internet entrepreneur should give careful consideration to his or her potential partner’s:
Technical Expertise. Obviously, it’s important that partners in a business endeavor each provide a skill set useful to the new business.
Integrity. Trust is absolutely vital to any close relationship. Eric Koefoot noted that, early in his experience as an entrepreneur, he experienced the negative consequences that result from partnering with a person lacking in integrity when his partner embezzled from their fledgling business.
Work Ethic. As Eric Horvitz pointed out, “[t]here’s always one person [in a business partnership] who cares more. There’s always one person who works harder.” But, that’s fine, accordingly to Eric Koefoot, as long as the business owners have work ethics that are compatible with one another and have a clear understanding of the expectations going into the relationship.
Personality. Starting a business requires a lot of work, which translates into a lot of togetherness for business partners. Eric Horvitz stressed the importance of knowing how well you get along with your business partner before starting the relationship.
Like a marriage, a business partnership requires a lot of work to keep it going, even after you’ve found “Mr. or Mrs. Right.” A dispute between partners can easily become a distraction from the business’s focus on its customers, which Eric Koefoot calls the “biggest risk” for any new business. However, such a dispute can absolutely destroy a business if the partners violated Eric Horvitz’s cardinal rule of never starting a business in which two partners each own 50%. After more than twenty years of practice, he says, “I always advise my clients never to start a business 50-50 because it leads to immediate deadlock.”