Illuminating Lessons I Learned When My Cofounder Walked Away

Illuminating Lessons I Learned When My Cofounder Walked Away

Being my own boss and starting multiple businesses was never on my bucket list. And I definitely never expected to have a business partner.

What I did know, as early as kindergarten, was that I wanted to kill it in my career (although maybe not exactly using those words). In high school, instead of obsessing over what to wear to prom, I was creating PR plans for my class and making compelling posters with glitter. To say I was driven is an understatement.

I went to college in New York City, became the President of AdGroup, and found myself a little disappointed by the opportunities out in the working world. I didn’t feel connected to office cultures that promoted dead ends for women—and ultimately, I realized I wasn’t going to do my best work sitting at a desk all day.

So, I started freelancing instead, and word of mouth grew, getting me from gig to gig creating my own path. That said, it was a tough path along a bumpy road, with endless struggles. It’s important to me that we don’t over glamorize the independence that comes with being your own boss—which is why I wanted to tell my story here to begin with.

A few years after college, over coffee, someone I had considered one of my best friends, approached me with the idea to start our own PR agency. As I said before, I never wanted to have a business partner and knew very little of what it entailed. I turned him down twice before being convinced to dive in. Ultimately, the thing that changed my mind was remembering my mother’s advice that you can always get out of something, but you can’t always get into something.

That partnership ran with no business plan and none of the checklists below. However, it resulted in a hugely successful PR and branding agency Noise 784 and the birth of the good-vibes brand, Happy Noise. Both companies are still run by me at the helm with our incredible teams of passionate people spreading joy and changing the narrative.

Nearly70% of business partnerships failand according to Forbes, making a business partnership work is akin to making a marriage work. Without going into specific details, I recently became part of that staggering statistic and was caught very off-guard—which sent me into the spin cycle of the choice between finishing the wash or walking away.

I initially did not want to write my own personal story. It felt way too vulnerable. But, after months of processing and reflecting, I began to find clarity. Between the anger and the hurt, mostly hurt, I felt the need to share what I had taken home from my battlefield.

So, I’m here in the hopes that I can help someone else make the better choice for their business—which usually means you need to stand in your power and count on yourself,  even when you are in a partnership. Because despite the fact that my business partnership has dissolved, I still believe in good partnerships—the kinds that aren’t codependent, but independent of each other under the umbrella of one.

Do as the NYPD says: “If you see something. say something.”

Problem: Any little thing that bothers you. Annoying behaviors, small instances of disappointment—anything. These things don’t solve themselves, and they won’t go away.

Solution: You have to communicate without being afraid of rocking the boat. Down the road, the way someone handles a client or responds on a call could cost you the business—and your wellbeing. Address these problems head-on when you first spot them, and when the stakes are lower.

Don’t mix business too closely with pleasure.

Problem: If you love getting mani / pedis together and grabbing drinks on Saturday nights, think very carefully before you go into business together. If your lives are too intertwined, keeping a partnership professional can be difficult and messy.

Solution: This isn’t a blanket statement. Obviously, some friendships work as business partnership—but most don’t. If you want to work closely with your friend, it would be smarter to hire them as an employee.

Or, if you have truly different skill sets and can own clearly differentiated pieces of the business, you will have a better shot at success. But think closely and carefully about how you want to keep the personal elements of your lives separated from the professional ones.

Divide and conquer—equally.

Problem: One of you does more work than the other person. This can be natural, but if you aren’t mindful of recalibrating and finding a more equal way to split your responsibilities, things can quickly become imbalanced.

Solution:Partnerships should be based on equal parts joining forces as one. But usually—just like all of your academic group projects—one person usually does more work than the other.

Sign a pre-nuptial agreement.

Problem: I have never been married and have always considered the idea of a pre-nup to be unromantic and a set-up for failure. But the honeymoon phase does not last forever and it is easier to agree to terms while you still see each other through the filter of love.

Solution: Creating a detailed document (please hire a lawyer and not Google) while you still like each other and are excited for the future is the right way to set up a future framework from a place of generosity and consideration. I don’t mean a shareholder’s agreement (depending on your legal structure C-Corp, S-Corp or LLC), but rather, a partnership agreement. This lays out the eventualities for the business if one partner wants to leave or dissolve the business—or even in the case of a partner’s death.

The document should clearly state not only the obvious—how revenue is divided—but also the responsibilities and rights of each partner. Dive deep on this, think through tax responsibility, client division, bookkeeping, management of employees etc.

Who is going to oversee the different teams you hire? What happens when a partner wants to leave? What happens when you have actually built a brand? Who gets the assets if you split up? If you are cringing at just the idea of these questions, this is a strong indicator that a partnership may not be the right path for you.

Use your emotions as guideposts.

Problem: Are you unsure of your potential partner? Does your intuition tell you something is off? I know business is not supposed to be emotional, but guess what: It is. To turn an idea into a living, breathing reality requires talent—and commitment—and success is a rare prize. 20 percent of businesses do not survive the first year, with 50 percent of business closing in five years,according toUSA Today.Do not ignore your gut.

Solution:  Talk to your potential partner and have a proper heart to heart before you make any commitments. Bring up every single fear and doubt. If the answers are not what you feel comfortable with, move on. If the answers quell your doubts, then package them into your partnership agreement.

Expect change—lots of it.

Problem: You think you will live forever and nothing will ever change. Talk to me after your Saturn Return. But seriously, nothing is forever.

Solution: Be open to the possibility that you might decide to leave this business to open a smoothie shop in Bermuda. Your partner might want to become a painter and change careers. Maybe you will hit the jackpot of partnerships, but I can promise you some aspect of the business with change consistently from now until…forever. Change is the constant variable we can all count on—keep that in mind and plan for all eventualities, transitions, and exits from the very start.