Who’s my partner?

Startups and startup founders don’t operate in isolation. And whether you’re starting a company or a family, partnerships are hard — but they matter. A lot. They say business partners are like spouses: you’re with them everyday, for better or worse, in sickness and in health. There’s usually a honeymoon phase, and then, inevitably, reality settles in and the illusion of perfection crumbles. But all partnerships — even the good ones — take work. And despite all the hurdles and headaches, partnerships are a key factor in both success and happiness. It’s no coincidence many of the most famous companies are a result of partnerships: Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Hewlett and Packard. Ben and Jerry.

Remember that successful partnerships are not just about finding someone perfect and exactly like you. The brilliance often lies in the gentle tension. The slight difference in perspective. The ability to tease out ideas and qualities in another person (and ourselves). Our output wanes when we isolate, so don’t go it alone. But choose your company wisely. It’s easy to get caught up with the technical stuff, but the partners you choose matter. We truly are the sum of the company we keep, and this matters more than ever when you’re launching a startup. Two general rules of thumb that have served me well: 1) If your partner’s brilliant, but they’re personally a mess, it will seep into your business. Avoid. 2) Choose someone you wouldn’t mind getting stranded in an airport with. Life is too short to not spend it around enjoyable people.

Which assumptions need invalidating?

Just like technology, our ways of thinking are only cutting edge for so long. Eventually, even the most breakthrough idea expires and becomes outdated — but that can work to your advantage: outdated assumptions that are still largely perpetuated in the marketplace are a perfect place to start eyeing your next opportunity. Ask yourself, “Which assumptions are no longer valid? Which mental models are past their prime?” Most large companies don’t ask these questions or interrogate their way of operating until crisis strikes — when it’s largely too late. But as an entrepreneur, you have less to lose and aren’t accountable to all the stakeholders, so use your smallness to your advantage and discover what the big companies and industries are currently taking for granted. These are the areas most ripe for innovation, most likely to find investment (should you decide to go the VC route), and with the longest lifeline. You could be the next Netflix nudging out Blockbuster if you ask the right questions and look beyond the status quo.

Where is my sweet spot?

As a society, we’re passionate about passion. We want to be passionate about everything we do: our jobs, our hobbies, our life goals, what we eat for breakfast — everything. That passion can push us beyond our comfort zones to pursue our dreams, to take the risks necessary for success. But can passion alone be the X factor that catapults your next venture to the top? Every good entrepreneur needs passion to succeed, but the most successful entrepreneurs understand that passion must be balanced with real skills and demand from your audience. It’s the intersection of those three ingredients — 1) what you love to do and are interested in, 2) what you’re good at or could become good at, and 3) what the market is demanding — that creates the startup sweet spot. So, interrogate your passions, then check them against the practical components before you launch. In other words, ask yourself: Why this? Why you? Why now?

About the Author:

Guest Author Anna Akbari, PhD, is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the author of Startup Your Life: Hustle and Hack Your Way To Happiness.

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