April 2nd, 2012
Today, Toots, Booger and I head to Los Angeles to visit my business partner, but we’re not traveling for work. Instead, we’re planning some fun hang-out time because my partner and I are good friends, too. And as we set our social agenda for the week, I reflected back to when Jess and I decided to collaborate on a few projects that became full-blown endeavors and one, a business. It was last year around July when Jess pitched the Two Funny Brains idea to me and I hemmed and hawed and resisted because I’d known too many such ventures fail due to bad personality dynamics, mistrust, and jealousy. In fact, I’d been warned to never start a business with a friend and just had come off the heels of seeing one such something or other blow up, causing much tension and general crapitude.
As a result, I was hesitant to bring more possible implosion into my life. I reached out to friends and supporters and asked for their opinions, which ended up mixed and ranged from “DON’T DO IT” to “If you trust each other, it could work.” So I checked my gut and moved forward. Soon enough, we formed our partnership, ordered business cards, took conference calls, and made our first few videos. We were off.
Pretty much. I mean, you might know what it’s like to start a new business. Ups and downs. And with a partner? It’s a marriage, it really is. Yet I have to tell you that Jess and I are good. Really excellent. Our issues are aired immediately, we advocate for each other, and creatively enhance the other.
To that end, I’ve wanted to write for awhile now about the reasons we work, but I worried it would come across as pedantic and obvious. However, I list the below enabling factors because they helped me lay it out and see in black and white why I made the right decision to join forces with Jess. If you’re thinking of starting something with a friend, maybe some of what I describe here will help you check your own gut.
The below is why it works for Jess and I.
1. Your strengths and weaknesses complement each other.
I know. No shit. But when you see this in action, it’s sublime. I am a processor, thinker, drag-my-heeler. I have ideas, but don’t execute as much as I should. Jessica is a doer, an executer, a pull-the-triggerer (I just made her sound like a murderer). So when I say to Jess, “OK, let me process that,” she says “You have two hours.” As a result, crap gets done. On the flip side, if Jess wants to proceed too quickly, I put the brakes on and bring up a few reasons we might want to slow down. Luckily, we have the ability to see the logic and usefulness in both approaches to life and put it to work for our company.
2. You share a vision and a passion.
Here’s the thing with this. The vision will vary, the passion will ebb and flow, but in the down times, if you can remind each other of what they both are — and why you started the company in the first place — it goes a long way. Jess and I are both creatives, and we like to laugh. We’ve also been blogging a long time and Jess knows video production inside and out, while I have ad/PR experience. Yes this goes back to “use your respective strengths,” but also helps set the foundation for what you’re doing. We’d both observed companies market to social media folks completely ineffectively and knew there was a different way. We used what we liked — humor — and what we knew — blogging, video, advertising — to start something that could market in a way that actually captured attention. That was the vision. The passion? Our creativity. Those are our bedrocks and touchstones. THOSE never vary.
3. You trust your partner’s motivation and agenda.
Jess is the first person for whom I can without hesitation say the above (other than my husband). I’ve withdrawn from some projects because I don’t trust the people involved. Some of my mistrust was based on my instinct, and some borne by observation. (Let me insert here that if someone acts one way in public, but another way behind the scenes, that’s a huge tip-off.) (Also, you can tell a lot about people based on how they treat those who can’t do anything for them.) Jess is what-you-see-is-what-you-get. She’s completely transparent. She asks for what she wants and she tells you why. I don’t worry that she’s manipulating matters behind my back, or “in it” for anything other than what she says — She knows we’re onto something here and she wants to go for it. Me too.
4. You both say what you mean and mean what you say.
Jess is so much better than I at this…because I still worry too much what people think of me. Yet, if Jess is mad at me? She tells me. If she is irritated over something? I hear about it RIGHT AWAY. It doesn’t fester and become an elephant in the room and create avoidable tension. She encourages me to tell her everything I’m thinking and holding back even if I think she’ll get pissed. And sometimes she does get pissed, but it’s handled immediately. When it comes to women like me who are so used to withholding feelings because she doesn’t want to upset someone? This is partnership gold. In fact, I think it’s a huge success factor, if not the most critical.
4. You set aside the personal need to “be right” and stay open to what’s best for the partnership and/or project.
Another so-important criterion. Ego ruins things. It inserts itself into a relationship and eats its brain. I think in a marriage they call it, “You’d rather be right than happy.” In this case, Jess and I would rather have the project be as excellent as possible and we don’t have time for ego. So when Jessica tells me my script wasn’t funny, I either make my case or say “OK, let’s start over.” When I tell Jess that an edit needs to be made tighter, even after she’s spent four weeks already editing, she does it. We make the other better, because we listen and are willing to HEAR. Most importantly, we make the project better.
5. You respect each other, and believe in each other’s talent.
Another obvious one, I know. It’s worth stating though because while simple, it’s true and bears repeating like the most simple and true things do. I believe in Jess’s talent. I know she will keep going until we get it right. I respect that she won’t give up when the going gets tough. I try to tell her these things often, but more often she tells me. She is always, always reiterating that she thinks I’m talented, that I can “DO THIS” and that is the secret sauce, when used collaboratively, that makes it all work.
I realize that dynamics, values, work styles and personalities differ. You might not admire or respond to the same things I do in a business partner, but there are some no-brainers that are universal.
And if this sounds like a love letter to Jess, it is.
In a work-y kind of way, with a heaping dose of “I love her as a person” platonic passion.