Wednesday, 13 July 2011 13:40

Sex and the start-up

Mumpreneurs can learn from Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte when it comes to partnerships.


A mumpreneur client said to me the other day that business partnerships are like marriage without the sex.


It’s a good analogy. Relationships, whether business or pleasure, rely on the capacity for shared values, vision and growth.


Many mumpreneurs I speak to have started a business with a friend, classically evolving organically from a hobby to something more.


Too often these women have a story of partnerships gone wrong, usually ending not only the business relationship, but also the friendship, with plenty of collateral damage along the way – social and financial.


More tellingly, all of these unhappy endings had warning signs that were ignored.


In the spirit of Sex and the City, a show all about partnerships and women, I’ve categorised the top four business break-ups and their red flags.

  1. The Carrie (fear of commitment): in the first flush of a business venture everything seems exciting and amidst the visionary dreams and empty cosmopolitan glasses, the future rosy.

    A little further in to the process, when the first bills, first issues and first sacrifices get made, a partner without the same depth of shared vision will start to create an exit strategy – often unconsciously.

    Key signs are a lack of prioritisation of the business and its needs, a reluctance to discuss future commitments and a noticeable shift in enthusiasm or withdrawal from the relationship.

    Agree on an exit strategy and what both of you want to get from the business before starting, and have some cooling off time before embarking on the journey.

  2. The Samantha (opportunitis): Having an overenthusiastic business partner can be a boon at the beginning in keeping the hype high, but it cause serious cracks in the relationship when that rampant opportunitis ends up with a lack of ability to focus on the core product or service.

    Constant searching for new opportunities or activities can leave a partnership exhausted from having to reign in the straying partner as they try and take the business in 100 new directions at once.

    Keep this person as your ideas generator rather than as the solid rock guiding you forward.

  3. The Miranda (perfectionism mismatch): Knowing your partners strengths and weaknesses as well as your own, and choosing roles in the business that suit your natural skills is essential to avoid resentment and perceived overwork.

    If one partner believes that she is taking on all the tough stuff, while the other is seen to not pull their weight, the situation will inevitably escalate into unbearable tension.

    Comparison is a slippery slope, and outputs need to be agreed and measured regularly.

    As soon as one party feels out of alignment, the situation needs to be articulated and addressed.

  4. The Charlotte (values mismatch): Sharing values in business is particularly critical, because in the crucible of bad times and stress, a mismatch will become sharply evident.

    Often business partners are chosen because of timing or resources rather than confidence that they are ‘the one’.

    Knowing that you share a deep commitment to the brand and reflect each other’s behaviors and core beliefs is fundamental.

    Spend time with your prospective business partner. Ask questions that reveal their values.

    Listen to your instinct and where anything about them jangles or jars, ask yourself if you will be able to live with it in a business situation.

    Be choosy and say no while feelings and pocketbooks stay undamaged.

Dr Polly McGee a co-founder of Startup Tasmania, which aids fast-growth start-ups in the state. She’s behind the MumpreneurIDEAS program, a one day workshop that assists women to start-up and is also a senior lecturer in Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Tasmania in their MBA and undergraduate program.

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