Written By: Claire Gendron, Bilingual Marketing Content Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada
Becoming an entrepreneur is very rewarding, but it’s not without challenges – especially if you’re going it alone. Many entrepreneurs experience loneliness, as well as stress over the risk involved and the fear of failure. A recent article by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index revealed that 45 percent of entrepreneurs reported feeling “a lot” of stress the previous day.
For some, co-founding an enterprise with partners might seem like the perfect simple solution to reduce pressure, increase confidence, share risk and enjoy the many other advantages associated with working in a team. But like with every relationship, you must be prepared for issues to arise and have the right tools at your disposal to solve them.
At Futurpreneur Canada, we see many of these kinds of partnerships among the start-ups we support: in fact, more than a quarter of those enterprises have two or more partners. One case in particular stands out as a paradigm of a successful partnership, and that’s Alex Ethans, Andrew Parkes and Maciek Hunek, who launched Eph Apparel in 2011.
“The transformation from men to gentlemen”, is how the three co-founders describe the evolution of their business. Established in Winnipeg, Eph Apparel specializes in made-to-measure clothing for men. The start-up already looks like a success after only four years in existence, with 38 employees, 25,000 clients and prestigious collaborations with the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Winnipeg Jets.
“We would not be in the position we are in today if this was a one man show,” Alex acknowledges. “Start-ups and all businesses can go through turbulent phases and it can be a rollercoaster ride, but a great way to mitigate these bumps in the road is by having partners to pick you back up.”
The three co-founders met in business school at the University of Manitoba. After graduating, they got their feet wet working in local businesses, but felt stifled and decided to start their own business. Many start-ups form similarly in educational or social circles. However, it’s also possible to find a partner from business incubators, start-up organizations or by participating in industry and networking events. Websites that connect entrepreneurs are also starting to emerge, like FounderDating in the United States.
For an optimal partnership, co-founders should have different, but complementary, skill sets. For example, Alex, Andrew and Maciek believe that their different backgrounds create a major advantage for their business: “We are lucky enough to have three partners and we couldn’t stress enough how important it is to have partners whose strengths complement one another. Each one of us brings something different to the table.”
From the beginning, they have all had a stake in each decision made in developing the business and each naturally turns to his own area of expertise: sales and human resources for Alex, marketing and operations for Andrew, and logistics, supply chain and Finance for Maciek. However, this doesn’t stop the trio from collaborating. “Our academic backgrounds laid the foundation for our “specialties” as we were getting our feet wet with EPH, but we always collaborate on material decisions or ask the “what do you think” when we are stuck,” says Andrew.
Finding partners with complementary skills is one thing, but coming together with one vision and a common set of values is another – and it’s essential to a good collaboration. These three co-founders were conscious of this fact and they share this with fellow entrepreneurs. “Be driven by passion for your idea and business instead of the potential pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and find other partners that have the same ambition, hunger and passion as you.”
In this type of partnership, having a strong organizational structure is key. The three entrepreneurs have gained a lot of experience on this subject: “As we transitioned from a business with a handful of employees to a team of 35, it wasn’t easy letting go of the day-to-day tasks to focus on managing and planning. We collaborate on a daily and even hourly basis, but Wednesdays are set aside for strategy, planning, and status updates on each of outstanding projects,” explains Maciek.
Despite all the advantages of partnership – the support of colleagues, sharing skills and experiences and the benefit of a broader network – we can’t forget the other side of the coin. Decisions affecting the business must be agreed on by the group, which can be challenging with the differing opinions. This means plenty of meetings – and finding those rare moments when everyone is available. As Alex says, “A partnership is like a marriage. Great times, rocky times and everything else in between, but all worth it in the end.”
Thinking about formalizing a partnership with your co-founders? Read this article by Tim Rudkins, Small Business Coach and Solopreneur.