Finding the Right First Partner Can Benefit You Over a Lifetime in Business

There is no perfect playbook on how you should go about choosing a business partner. But there are some general guidelines that I find useful to consider.

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By John Suh


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The best business decision I ever made was choosing my first business partner. Picking the right business partner straight out of the gate creates a relationship that will help you in business in perpetuity. When most people look for their first partner, they are thinking about who the perfect fit for their company would be at that time. But that's shortsighted. The decision isn't about a specific business. The decision is about who you are going to place into your life for one of the most important relationships you can have.

I judge potential business partnerships by asking myself whether I could see this person in my life 20-plus years from now, and contemplate whether I can imagine us both still adding value to the other's life.

Related: Never Underestimate How Stressful a Business Partnership Can Be

My first business partner defied normal convention. He was young, unproven and fresh out of college. Yet, I could see he was immensely talented and together we had that "X factor," that undeniable synergy where we both brought out the best in each other. We ended up working through seven different companies together and he's been my CFO, COO and CTO in three different types of ventures. Now he runs a private venture fund. Although we don't work together anymore, we stay in close contact, co-invest in new ventures and turn to each other for advice when we need to tap the other's areas of expertise.

That's why your first business partner is so important. If you are smart about it and have a little luck you'll find someone that will positively impact your life and career many times over.

There is no perfect playbook on how you should go about choosing a business partner. But there are some general guidelines that I find useful to consider.

Make sure you know the person.

This may seem like common sense, but lots of people enter into partnerships without really spending the time to know who they are getting into business with. The person may look good on paper and have extraordinary qualifications, but a partnership needs so much more than that. Remember, you're not looking for a rockstar employee -- you're looking for someone that is going to be your other half. Many describe a business partnership as similar to marriage. While 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, that number jumps to nearly 80 percent for business partnerships.

Related: 5 Things to Consider Before Getting a Business Partner

My partner and I worked together on a nonprofit that oversaw student conferences, which was a massive logistical and operational undertaking. We ended up setting up our own foundation to oversee the conferences and through our work together we were able to forge a bond before becoming partners.

Don't pick yourself.

You should look for a business partner that complements you, not one that is a copy of you. If your strength is creativity, then you might look for someone who is more process-oriented. If you're a master salesperson but business finance isn't your strongpoint, maybe consider a partner who understands business accounting.

People who are similar to you might feel like the more comfortable choice, but that's not what you or the business needs to be successful. The wider variety of skills that you and your partner bring separately to the table, the easier it will be to propel the business forward.

Look for vision and values.

Since you and your partner will need to constantly set goals and make decisions to drive the business forward, it is extremely important that you are both trying to head in the same direction -- that you share the same vision for the future. Every decision should be like two bricklayers laying brick by brick according to the blueprint, not going off and creating separate structures.

Related: Select Your Co-Founder Carefully

You also want someone who holds the same values as you do because that's necessary to build the type of trust needed for a successful partnership. You should look for someone you find to value honesty and truth, someone who follows sound business ethics and is just an overall good person in their personal life.

Find someone fun.

This may be one of the most important aspects. It's that X factor I mentioned. You're going to spend more time with this person than with your friends and family -- even your spouse. Your relationship will be pressure-tested day in and out, and there needs to be that element of friendship and camaraderie you share with each other to make it through those challenging times and come out stronger.

I couldn't have asked for a better first business partner. Although I've provided a few recommendations, remember that for this type of decision it is really important to trust your gut and look for warning signs early on. Don't settle for partnering with someone who you think will be good enough to do the job -- look for someone who will be good enough to go through 10 different ventures over the next few decades with you.
John Suh

CEO at LegalZoom

John Suh has served as LegalZoom’s CEO since 2007 and as a member of the board since 2005. A serial entrepreneur, he has taken multiple businesses from startup to more than $20 million and helped some existing companies grow to over $100 million in revenues.

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