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Dissolving a business partnership

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Breaking up can be hard and emotional

I met my business partner just over a month ago and have been working with him to bring an idea we had to life. Well, idea(s). We pivoted 3 times in the course of four weeks. At the beginning and as with any new ventures, everything looked promising. We had complementary skill sets, got on well on a personal level and were at similar stages in life (we had both quit our jobs recently). He had been nurturing a side-project for a number of years (nine, in fact) and we talked enthusiastically about the various ways we could grow it.

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The idea of building a new business is thrilling. You feel a rush of optimism, marvel at your own ability to come up with something that could potentially change the world, and for a while, you bask in the dream, until the dreaming phase is over and it is time for relentless grunt work.

To be very honest, I had always been the one that was more enthusiastic about our seemingly limitless options than him. About a week and a half in our new business partnership I started seeing some warning signals — I will complete the tasks on my side waiting for a deliverable from him, and it would not materialise.

I felt like I was left hanging on a high-five.

I tried various tactics to help him focus — at various stages I tried getting us to physically work together in the same space, allocating tasks on Trello, emails, diarised catch-ups… We tried the soft approach, the hard deadlines, being hands on, go completely hands off…

Then last Friday he finally admitted it wasn’t working.

The reality of having to go through the start-up journey again (he had a number of prior start-up experiences that did not work out for various reasons I will not comment on here) was too much for him to bear. He had given up the comforts of a six-figure income, and the thought of having to live hand to mouth (his words, not mine), was just too much.

This is when the reality of entrepreneurship hits home, for me.

Although I can’t say I have had a good run at entrepreneurship (we barely made it past the starting point), I can relate to his fear as the enormity of the task ahead is loud and clear. I am now faced with the decision on whether to push this start-up into existence on my own or to shut it down. To be frank, for a business is is very much reliant on relationships, this possibility of running this on my own seem like a very daunting task right now.

The immediate concern is what we do with the “business” we created up to this date, and how do we progress separately from here.

Dissolving a business partnership is hard, just ask any start-up lawyers dealing with this on a daily basis. It can also get very ugly.

Thankfully we parted on fairly amicable terms. On this particular venture, we never got to the stage of creating a legal partnership, mostly because we barely had any traction so far, so there is nothing really to divide. There is potentially a small sticking point on what do do with the “trade name”, but, until we both figure out our next steps, it is too hard to determine any form of formality.

Helpful tips on forming long lasting business partnership

  1. Partnership agreements — having the right documents in place makes it clear who is contributing what to the partnership, avoiding pains and headaches down the line. This is an actual legal agreement.
  2. Clear expectations — We live in our own brains 24/7 that we all sometimes forget that people cannot read our mine. Get communicating.
  3. Complementary skillsets — You become the sum of parts and can achieve much more. However, sometimes, having the same personality makes sense (I will write a separate post on my findings at a later date).
  4. Mutually beneficial — This one might sound obvious, but if one party is contributing more to a relationship, they should be rewarded for it or resentment will start to brew.
  5. Walk away — People change. Priorities evolve. There are many reasons why a business partnership stop working and it is important to recognise this early to decide if you resolve to work through the differences or to walk away. There is no shame in leaving a relationships that no longer make sense to the people involved.

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