A word from a CEO #27

by Basilis Kanonidis

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What I learned about picking partners

“Many people you think are individual achievers, in fact, have either a strong spousal partner over many years or a business partner who’s either in the background, not given enough publicity or less egocentric.”

– Michael Eisner

I’ve never been good at being alone.

Which may sound strange, because as you may know, I’m an introvert — so I’m constantly seeking time to be by myself. To be alone with my thoughts and recharge from people around people and being “on.”

But while I do need that time alone, it’s also always been important to me to have a partner in something. And I know that who I partner with — in business, and in life — is one of the most critical decisions I’ll make.

Warren Buffet once said, “…in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. If you hire somebody without integrity, you really want them to be dumb and lazy.

In the past I used this approach to picking business partners, focusing on integrity, intelligence, and energy. But over time, that switched and I unknowingly started following Charles Koch’s framework for picking a partner, which is around shared vision, shared values, and complementary capabilities.

I believe that if you have all three, you will be successful. Because in most of the businesses I’ve seen fail, it’s not because the founders chose a bad idea, or the wrong category. It’s because of bad partner dynamics — either picking the wrong one, not being clear on who owns what, picking people who are too much like you, or picking people you can’t trust.

Think about my co-founder, Elias and me. We have complementing capabilities — he’s extroverted, while I’m introverted, I focus on things I’m more naturally good at, like marketing, product and writing, and he focuses on things he’s better at, like teams, people and engineering.

We have a shared vision of what we want to do from a business standpoint, and most importantly we have shared values — which gives us the ability to guess what the other person is going to say and stand-in for the other when needed.

So the next time you need to choose a partner — ask yourself: do we have complementary capabilities? A shared vision? The same values? And if you can say yes to all three, you’ve found the right person.

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