One of the most rewarding aspects of business meals is the unpredictable nature of conversations—the verbal and paralinguistic reactions, the alternating agreeing, backchanneling, showing interest, clarifying, and the ambiguities that often need to be resolved.
Doing business over an appetizing meal followed by delectable dessert options is a ritual that has existed for centuries. And this evening just happened to be one of those occasions—well, sort of.
As a startup founder, I am at the stage where I am seeking a co-founder to help me build an empire (i.e., a thriving local economy). You noticed, I did not say business. The reason is simple. Anyone can launch a business, but it takes a different mindset to build a brand with staying power. And since building an empire is my goal, I am seeking a co-founder with a similar mindset—someone willing to defy the rules and redefine the norm as it relates to my industry—cosmetics.
Now, about this evening. For dessert, I had housemade spent grain bread pudding with blueberry, vanilla cream sauce and ice cream, which was pretty appetizing. Actually, “we” had bread pudding. My guest and I split the dessert—we literally took turns eating the scrumptious comfort food off of one plate that was placed in the middle of the table. Interesting, right? I thought so too.
While I came to this “meeting” with an agenda (there’s always an agenda), what I desired more than anything else was for this person to be his/her authentic self. I did not want to spend the evening with someone who was positioning to gain my approval. When it comes to interpersonal relationships, my preference is to be in the company of individuals who have a clear and satisfying understanding of their own abilities and growth opportunities.
This potential co-founder passed the initial business litmus test. In fact, after an hour of conversation, this person felt comfortable enough to call me out as being argumentative. I guess I am a systematic reasoner and I love going deep in conversations. But most importantly, finding a business partner with whom a person can be him/herself is probably the most exciting thing that could ever happen in a business relationship.
While my search for a co-founder continues, here are some life lessons an evening punctuated by the sharing of dessert taught me.
Lesson #1. A business agenda, no matter how urgent or important, should not take precedence over conviviality. Relationship matters!
Lesson #2. There is no need to rush the process. Yes, you’re looking for a business soulmate; however, this person must also be vested in creating a special place of alignment in his/her business life. In other words, does this person want to win as much as you do?Lesson #3. This lesson is perhaps the most important one to consider. Don’t settle on the nice smile, the firm handshake, and/or the enjoyable and engaging meeting. Get to know your potential co-founder intimately, which suggests that you will have to meet with this individual more than one time and in a variety of settings. You’ll need to spend quality time with this person over a few months, perhaps longer.
Here are some questions to consider. Do you see yourself leaving $1 million with this person without worrying about what would happen to the $1 million? Can you envision this person giving 120% effort even when you are not at the office? Are you comfortable with this person being around your loved ones? For example, I will not partner with anyone who uses drugs and/or drinks alcohol regularly, and would not be comfortable having that person around my family. I also will not partner with anyone who has a ridiculous amount of debt. So, you have to know what your core values are and the areas you are willing to make compromises.
Lesson #4. Don’t take things too personal—literally. At the end of the day, landing the right co-founder is a business transaction. Trust the process and in the end, the process will work itself out.