Some years ago, long before Daniel and I were together, we were asked to both give a talk to some students at MECA. We both attended the college, and through different routes, both ended up working in fashion.
The presentations we gave couldn’t have been more different. They were both ostensiably advice to young students about how to enter the design business, but we saw the path in very differently.
Daniel talked about building partnerships. I talked about trying to do it all yourself.
This exemplifies the reason I need to work with Daniel. :)
He sees value in working with other people, and knows how to do it. I find it confusing, slow, and problematic.
But really, truly, you can’t do everything yourself.
This past summer, we had a business partnership crash and burn, hard. I’m still vividly angry over the situation. Daniel recently expressed concern that it might lead me to avoid opportunities, rather than risk working with people again.
My dad always advised me: if you can’t figure out who the customer is and who the buyer is, it’s too complicated a deal. Now, while that doesn’t exactly apply to partnerships, the reality is, people often get involved in partnerships when they shouldn’t or involve other people in a partnership for the wrong reasons. The point is: the roles, the responsibilities, and the flow of capital should be extremely clear before entering a partnership.
There’s a real, legal, and financial complexity to partnerships:
Who is going to pay the lawyer?
Who’s going to pay the accountant?
Who’s going to make sure the taxes get paid on time?
Do the bookkeeping?
Who comes up with ideas?
Whose ideas get implemented?
Who is responsible if things don’t work out?
Who is going to clean the kitchen and clean up after parties?
Whose job is it to show up everyday to keep things running?
Who is the designer and who is the manager?
What happens if one partner has a life change and decides to stop contributing?
What happens if one partner gets divorced? Does their ex-spouse have some hold on the business too?
Suffice to say, I believe it makes sense to form a legal, binding roles & responsibilities & financials documents prior to forming any partnership. It’s hard to do this, because, like a pre-nup, it basically says: “here’s what we’re gonna do if it all goes to shit.” Often, business partnerships are formed like new romantic relationships are formed: in a haze of endorphins and serotonin and excitement- “I’ve met my mate! We’re going to build the business of our dreams, live happily ever after, and be rich!”
As I was writing this essay, I started to see that despite having formed and dissolved a few business partnerships over the years I still don’t have any good answers, only tougher questions. A good friend, Matthew Kenney, came to mind, as someone who might have some relevant advice and answers. Our Q&A is the next post.