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Essential Elements of Working with a Business Partner

When Bryan Burkhart and Sonu Panda launched their New York-based subscription floral service H.Bloom in 2010, they spent every working moment together.

Paul Andruss



Business Partners

“We went to the flower market at the crack of dawn, interviewed every type of potential hire and drove a ZipCar around Manhattan to figure out how to scale deliveries,” says Burkhart, CEO. “We needed to learn the ins and outs of the business together so we could set the direction of the company together.”

As the business took off, though, the founders realized they also needed to work independently on various tasks so they could build the company on multiple fronts simultaneously. Today, Panda runs the day-to-day operations, directing engineers, buyers and managers of H.Bloom’s five regional markets; Burkhart focuses mainly on sales, marketing and investor relations.

“We have a clear division of labour and discrete roles and responsibilities,” Burkhart says. “[Panda] does much of the work that is gruelling and detail-oriented, things that I find extremely painful but are integral to our success. But we had a very honest discussion upfront about how we would think about splitting up the workload and making sure we were both OK with it.”

Having a co-founder is great when it comes to sharing the grunt work, holding late-night planning sessions and perpetuating a sense of camaraderie. But once a business is up and running, it can be complicated to determine who should do what, who shouldn’t do what and where the buck stops.

Divvying up duties is important to avoid duplicating efforts, to work more effectively and to play to each founder’s talents. “You need to look at the experience, strengths and styles of each partner and apply them to the needs of the company,” says Joni Fedders, president of Aileron, a Tipp City, Ohio-based non-profit that mentors private businesses.

Divvy It Up

There’s a clear delineation of responsibilities for Jonas Falk, CEO of Chicago-based healthful school-lunch provider OrganicLife, and his business partner, Justin Rolls. “I hadn’t filed tax returns in five years, but Justin has paid his taxes quarterly since he was 18 years old,” Falk says.

“He’s very paperwork- and detail-oriented, and I can’t stand paperwork; I like to focus on the creative things. But each of us having different strengths is what makes our business successful.”

Also important in deciding who does what are lifestyle differences, say Kirsten Lambert and Joan Ripple, founders of Hingham, Beantown Bedding, which makes biodegradable, compostable bed linens.

“Kirsten is a night person, and I’m a morning person,” Ripple says. “But it’s a positive thing, because she can do follow-ups in the evening on things that may be urgent, and I can do the same in the morning. Embracing our differences brings depth and perspective to the business.”

Flexibility is key, even when duties are clearly defined. At times dividing lines must be blurred for the good of the company. For example, partners should be prepared to work their personal connections when necessary, regardless of whether the task at hand falls under their purview.

“Sometimes our duties are based on the function, but sometimes it’s the relationship that matters, and you both have to know it’s OK to cross over when situations like that arise,” says Ripple, who stepped aside from her typical functions when an influential advisor felt more comfortable working with Lambert, with whom there was a previous relationship.

There may be times when founders reach an impasse on a task no one wants to tackle. Fedders suggests compromising on a rotation – i.e., “You take it this year, I’ll take it next year.” If you and your co-founder absolutely can’t agree to share the undesirable jobs, consider enlisting outside help.

Ripple has turned to others for functions ranging from web design to merchandising and sustainability. “Don’t be afraid to outsource where there are gaps in knowledge,” she says. “When we wrestle with something, getting help from an outside expert is definitely worth it.”

Make It Official

Even though job descriptions may seem obvious, Fedders says it’s a good idea to officially clarify individual responsibilities among all involved, particularly in high-level areas of operation. “Instead of just saying, ‘Is sales your responsibility or my responsibility?’ go deeper and ask if that person is also responsible for the selling structure, compensation and new client acquisition,” she says. “The greater the clarification, the better off you are.”

She recommends utilising common organisational tools, such as a good, old-fashioned org chart. “Just get it down on paper in some form,” she says. “‘Here are the areas of responsibility you’re taking; here are the ones I’m taking,’ and then include a breakdown of all tasks that fall under those categories.”

Even after responsibilities have been decided upon, Fedders suggests revisiting them regularly. “There’s a different leadership style needed when you’re going through a start-up phase vs. when you’re more in a growth stage,” she says. “As you grow and add people on, responsibilities are divvied up more. So revisiting those areas and responsibilities on a fairly frequent basis, especially when you’re in high growth, is critical.”

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What PayPal’s Rocky Beginnings Can Teach You About Start-up Success


Keep Communicating

It’s also essential to connect regularly – not just for accountability, but so each founder has a complete picture of how the business is evolving. In an expanding company, though, individual workloads can make that harder than it sounds.

When H.Bloom launched, Burkhart and Panda had plenty of time to talk shop. But that changed when they expanded into Washington, D.C. “He was so focused on keeping the lights on in New York and I was so focused on trying to turn the lights on in Washington that we lost that connection,” Burkhart says. “We weren’t communicating as frequently, and therefore we weren’t on the same page about direction anymore.”

The two resolved to schedule quality meeting time together every week – breakfast, dinner or sometime in between. Other entrepreneurs would do well to follow their lead, Aileron’s Fedders says. “When you have your own individual responsibilities, that constant communication takes time, energy and effort, but that’s what it takes to stay strong together,” she says. “If you don’t, it can wreak havoc on your organisation.”

A common thread among successful partnerships is that they’re based on shared core values about the business and a mutual conviction that its success trumps everything else.

“We both care a lot about food and everything that goes into it, and serving people – and those shared beliefs are what lets each of us trust the other and his judgment to do his own work,” OrganicLife’s Falk says. “Stuff comes up 100 times a day, every day. If you have to spend any time wondering what your partner is doing or bickering about who’s doing what, you’re never going to have a business.”

Adds H.Bloom’s Burkhart: “Even if we run into disagreements, we know we both care so deeply about what we’re doing that at the end of the day, we trust one another to go off to our separate roles and responsibilities and make it happen better than anybody else we know.”

The Deciding Factor

Working with a co-founder comes with challenges. Whether it’s dividing responsibilities, agreeing on a pace for expansion or plotting other strategies, decision-making is surely near the top of the list. “Decision-making obviously becomes slower in a partnership, because now you have someone else you have to run the decision by,” says Joni Fedders, president of business consultancy Aileron.

“That complicates things, because we all have different perspectives, different expectations and different styles.”

When hashing out who should and shouldn’t handle certain responsibilities, it can be helpful to create a framework of core values and principles for co-founders to consider when making decisions. “The more you can clarify these,” Fedders says, “the better it helps your decision-making process.”

Sample questions might include:

  • What are our goals and objectives?
  • What is our strategic plan?
  • How do we define our values?
  • What is our company culture?
  • How do we expect behaviours to work?

Paula Andruss is a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to hundreds of articles to national consumer, business and custom magazines and websites, including Woman’s Day, USA Today, Entrepreneur, Parents, Parenting and more.


Alan Knott-Craig Answers: How To Find Partners And Navigate The Partnership Territory

Most businesses are built on some form of partnership, from co-founders to investment deals. Here’s how to find partners and navigate partnership territory.

Alan Knott-Craig




How do you find the right partners? — Johnny

The best way to find partners is to make it easy for them to find you. Speak at conferences, write a blog, write books, do media interviews, make it easy for people to notice you. With some luck someone will approach you and voila, you’ll have a potential partner. The real challenge is knowing whether they are the right partner.

The only way you will find the right partner is if you are totally honest about yourself. The only way you can be totally honest about yourself is to know yourself.

To know yourself, you need to take risks. Lots of risks. Fall in love, start businesses, travel, meet new people, do public speeches. Keep taking risks. Sometimes you’ll win, most times you’ll fail.

It’s in failure that you’ll find out how you respond to setbacks, what is important to you, what type of people you gel with. One of the biggest risks you’ll take is choosing a business partner. If you make a mistake, it’s painful, but you then know more about yourself and will find it easier to find the right partner next time. Take risks.

Related: Alan Knott-Craig Answers: How To Build A Debt-Free Business

How do I discipline a senior executive in my business? We’ve been partners for over two years, he’s helped me enormously, but he recently crossed a line with one of our staff members and I’m not sure how to handle the situation. — Busi

Start with having a disciplinary code and disciplinary process that describes the steps to be taken in the event of an employee contravening the code.

You then need to call in your partner, have a witness present, and get his side of the story. If the issue can be explained away, problem solved.

If not, you have to follow your disciplinary process to the T. If anything, you must be overly strict. You must over-react.

You have to show the rest of your staff that no one is above the law. If you don’t, don’t be surprised if your staff become demoralised and disrespect you and your disciplinary code.

Related: Alan Knott-Craig Answers Your Questions On Money And Partners

I’m a CEO of a small business. We’ve recently had some HR issues. What’s the right response to gender or racial discrimination in the office?  — Vusiswa

No company in South Africa can tolerate gender or racial discrimination. Immediately start a disciplinary process, act firmly and publicly. Make an example of the situation. Draw a line far away from anything that could be construed as offensive, and make sure your entire team knows where that line is.

The first offenders should be used as public examples. Tough luck for them, but the best way to save others from doing the wrong thing is to over-punish the first offender.

I’m losing the confidence of my investors. What do I do? — Belinda

There are a couple of reasons for losing investor confidence:

  1. They think you’re incompetent. Only you know whether that is true. If true, there is no escaping this truth. Your only option is to find someone else to run your business. That action will rebuild investor confidence.
  2. They think you’re a liar. If you’re a liar, you will eventually be caught out. Investors will forgive incompetence, but they’ll never forgive fraud.
  3. You are not delivering on the promises you made. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are incompetent. It means you over-promised. The solution is simple: Stop over-promising. If you think you’ll do 20% sales growth, promise 10%. Get into the habit of giving yourself a margin of error. If you keep your promises, your investors will back you.


Read ‘Be A Hero’ today


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Public Private Partnerships Can Work For Entrepreneurs

Property Point will develop 16 small business in the property sector of which two thirds are youth and women owned.

Property Point




In a landmark partnership for collective economic growth in South Africa, the Department of Small Business Development (DSBD) joined forces with Property Point, a Growthpoint Properties initiative, to develop more small businesses for South Africa’s property sector. DSBD has allocated a R5 million grant to Property Point for a one-year small business development programme as part of its Enterprise Incubation Programme (EIP). This breakthrough initiative is the first public-private partnership of its kind in the property sector. It will develop 16 small businesses in the property sector of which two thirds are youth and woman-owned.

For  this  unique  16-business  intake,  Property  Point’s  programme  is powerfully market driven. It will raise the profile of the entrepreneurs and strengthen their competitiveness, with a deep focus on market integration. The programme aims to create market linkages for these small businesses that will see them included in procurement opportunities in the broader property sector, as well as Growthpoint. It is expected to set new benchmarks for small business integration into private sector supply chains.

Related: 4 Black-Owned Businesses Participating in This Enterprise Development Programme That Are Growing – Fast

Estienne de Klerk, CEO of Growthpoint South Africa, says: “We believe in the principles of social and economic transformation and empowerment on all levels, and we are committed to achieving this. As a hands-on property owner, we own and manage our buildings – we recognise our unique position to develop small businesses to increase their access to market opportunities. We are proud to contribute to this pioneering public-private partnership designed to deliver on South Africa’s transformation, small business, economic growth and job creation objectives.”

Shawn Theunissen, head of Property Point and head of Corporate Social Responsibility for Growthpoint Properties, says:

“Property Point’s  objective  has  always  been  to  contribute  to  South  Africa’s economic growth. Using a best practice model, we have delivered positive results in our new partnership with government. This will escalate our impact on transforming the economy at a crucial time when South Africa is dealing with high unemployment and low economic growth.”

The beneficiaries of the Property Point and DSBD partnership have advice on how other entrepreneurs can make the most out of similar programmes:

Advice from Zoleka Ngema of Senzee Trading



  • Be honest this helps you define your position and helps you view the real issues in your business.
  • Do every task diligently every business is different and what works for one might not work for you, so working diligently personifies the tasks and therefore adds value to your business.
  • Lessons are continuous remember & do the tasks done as these will create a cycle of growth even after the course is over.

Related: Want To Start A Property Business That Buys Property And Rents It Out?

Advice from Sibongile Shikwambana of Sandwind Coatings



  • Be fully present, participate and take advantage of every single opportunity
  • Drive your own business agenda; recognise that you and no one else can make your business successful
  • Build and maintain meaningful relationships.

Advice from Teko Motlhabi of Techmo Air



  • Try to be present and involved with all the activities and opportunities handed to you
  • Ask for help from the Programme Managers and the rest of the team when you need it
  • Create relationships with your fellow entrepreneurs and collaborate.

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How To Partner Successfully With A Younger Boss

Age sometimes seems a lot more than just a number

John Boitnott




Just a few years ago, millennials surpassed Generation Xers to become the largest cohort in the United States workforce, according to PEW research. As a result, more and more young people are assuming positions of management.

Being managed by someone younger can feel uncomfortable.

I have to admit, I get into the habit of comparing myself to other people. Those who are younger than us who have advanced further professionally can make us feel inadequate or resentful.

At one of the start-ups where I worked, one co-founder was a decade younger than me. At first I felt awkward with the heavy slate of marketing, sales and social media duties she assigned me. It wasn’t too long, though, before we settled into a groove and formed a strong working relationship.

Creating a bond with a younger manager can have significant positive effects on your own career. Here’s how you should manage it:

Identify skills that helped your boss advance and develop them in yourself

Even innovative businesses will adhere to rules of thumb. One rule of thumb many business leaders believe, rightly or wrongly, is that experience is valuable in and of itself. If your manager is younger than you, it means she probably had to overcome stereotypes and false assessments to get there.

Rather than assume your manager is a young punk who had a managerial role handed to her, work on identifying the skills that helped your boss to succeed. By developing the same skills within yourself, you’ll be more likely to enter a managerial role as well.

Related: How To Work Less And Still Get More Done

To get started, consider asking your manager point blank to identify the skills that she thinks were most useful in propelling her career forward. Once identified, make it clear that it’s a goal to develop those same skills within yourself. A good manager will take this conversation as a sign that you are a driven professional.

Alternatively, you could have a conversation with the person who decided to promote your manager in the first place. As long as you position your question to ensure that it sounds like it’s coming from a good place, the senior manager should have no problem sharing this information with you.

Think of your relationship as a partnership

Your manager is not your parent or your babysitter. If it feels as though your manager is overbearing, have a conversation with her about it. Otherwise, you should treat the relationship you have with your manager as a partnership.

Chances are you are both being evaluated on the same or similar metrics. If you fail, your manager fails, and if your manager fails, you fail. By changing your perspective on this important professional relationship, you may find working with a manager who is younger than you to be more comfortable.

Related: Build Better Business Relationships

Most managers simply want to ensure that whatever they’re working on is completed in the best way possible. They’ll be happy to work with employees who are collaborative, open to new ideas and motivated to get the job done.

In return, a manager who is satisfied with your work can make it more likely that you will also find yourself in a management role someday. If nothing else, you can consider leaving your current company and listing your current manager as a reference if you are able to develop a strong relationship.

Trade experience for new ideas

Both you and your manager have important knowledge that can be made more valuable when put together. You probably have accumulated wisdom from on the job experience, and your manager might have a fresh perspective or innovative new ideas.

Together wisdom and innovation can form a valuable pair that propels both you and your manager to success.

Make sure you make it clear that you are open to new perspectives and new ideas, and offer your experience when appropriate to guide your manager to making smarter choices.

Encourage open feedback in both directions

goldman-sachsFeedback is a critical component of professional growth. So much so that companies like Goldman Sachs are overhauling their feedback processes to boost employee performance. As a younger manager, she may feel anxious or conflicted about providing you with honest feedback. Instead, “manage up” and invite your manager to provide you with honest feedback.

In doing so, you will also set expectations that your manager should invite candidate feedback from you as well. By creating open dialogue between you and your manager, you’ll accelerate your professional learning curve and avoid passive aggressive moments.

Related: 7 Tips For Purposeful Communication To Better Lead Your Teams

Though your manager may be younger than you, she earned the privilege of managing a team for a reason. As an ambitious professional, it’s your job to understand why your manager earned that role and to begin cultivating the same skills within yourself.

Instead of feeling resentful, partner with your manager to share feedback and wisdom as you both work to achieve success.

By committing yourself to professional self-improvement, you may soon find yourself managing your own team of people who are older than you.

This article was originally posted here on

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