4 Tips to Make the Most of a Business Partnership

Photos of Harry Whitehouse and Amine Khechfe with caption “When Harry Met Amine”

Twenty years ago, Endicia was granted a patent for PC postage, allowing us to develop USPS shipping software for ecommerce businesses. Since then, our customers have printed more than $12 billion in postage. And Endicia accounted for roughly 66 percent of all PC postage printed in 2014.

But it wasn’t all that long ago that Endicia was a small business, just like yours. We were a couple of guys developing software programs to make USPS mailing and shipping more efficient.

Though a lot of things have changed over the years, one thing has remained the same – and that’s my relationship with Endicia’s other co-founder, Harry Whitehouse.

Our business partnership – which I like to think of as a “mutual mentorship” – has withstood the test of time: from our early days at Stanford University (Harry was my professor), to Endicia’s founding, through an acquisition and beyond.

Speaking from personal experience, business partnerships can be difficult to navigate. But having a partner, a mentor – and a friend – can make the process of running a successful small business so much more fulfilling and worthwhile.

So for those small ecommerce business owners who have a partner and are just starting out (or for those who are trying to figure out if their partner is right for them) here are a few tips to make the most of a business partnership and ensure it lasts through the hard times.

Know your partner

A strong business partnership is all about chemistry – it’s the right personalities coming together and playing off of each other’s strengths.

That said, it’s important to realize that your partner is only human. Be realistic about who you work with – acknowledge they have weaknesses in addition to talents. This will help you carve out the roles you each play in your business.

When it comes to me and Harry, we’re both easy-going at our core, which allows us to better acknowledge one another’s faults. As for strengths, I tend to be more business-minded, while Harry excels at innovation.

Be of one mind

It’s not enough to acknowledge strengths and weaknesses – you also have to be on the same page.

Harry and I decided long ago that all our business decisions would be based on what’s best for the customer. Having the customer as our point of focus has helped guide what Endicia does and how it grows.

Whenever we find ourselves at a crossroads we’re able to ask: “Will this benefit the customer?” This helps clear the right path and usually gets us in agreement.

Respect the other person

This point goes without saying: If you want your business partnership to thrive, you have to give (and get) respect.

That means when disagreements arise (and trust me, they will) you and your partner must offer points-of-view constructively, without condescension or criticism. At the end of the day, if you don’t value each other’s input, then there can be no business partnership.

Accept that things will change

If you’re lucky, you won’t be a small business forever, but that also means you may be thrown a few surprises. In our case, it was the Internet boom and bust. In your case, it might be rapid expansion or a merger. The bottom line is, you need to be able to roll with the punches.

If you or your partner are thrown off kilter every time a tough situation changes, then you probably won’t make it very far – either as a business or as partners.

Instead, apply problem-solving techniques to each new challenge and stay focused on your mission, whether that’s to please customers or something else.

Things will change, and that’s ok. Because a lot of the times – and in Endicia’s case – they change for the better.

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