Why You Should Avoid Partnerships In Start-up Businesses As Far As Possible

Having conducted seminars in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, I have been approached by numerous clients, with uniquely different problems.

The one problem which time and again pops up in our conversations, seemed, at first glance, harmless enough. These clients claimed that they did not see eye to eye with their business partners, either in terms of business strategy, marketing, bud’eting, profits sharing, and so on.

However, upon further probing, I usually found that a toxic business partnership often is a catalyst for deeper problems within their businesses.

This post is not meant to dissuade those who already have or are thinking of having partners on board their journey through entrepreneurship, which often, can be treacherous and lonely. The sole purpose of this post is to INFORM, to EDUCATE those who think that business is a game for the faint-hearted.

I started my journey in entrepreneurship in 2005, and had a flurry of business successes, which quickly led to other businesses being formed. This includes an arts auction firm, a manpower and coaching supply firm, marketing consultancy, and an info-product business targeting a very rabid and irrational market.

Of course, when I first went on this journey, I had, in my mind, several candidates for partnership. What I failed to realise though, is that partnerships are for the most part, a flimsy structure of agreement, (or disagreement) disguised under the pretence of friendhsip, goodwill and a two-heads-are-better-than-one naive mindset.


The following are some questions, which I hope will help you decide whether to kick out your partner or even have one in the first place.

Question 1: Why do you need a partner?

Oftentimes, I receive answers such as, two heads are better than one (really??), and both parties has the necessary technical and marketing know-how to make the business work.

Really? Ask yourself, do BOTH of you have complementary skills to make the partnership a viable one? By this, I mean that one of you should have a skill necessary to the business that the other party doesn’t have, and vice versa.

So if you are an expert in PR/Branding/Marketing, your partner should be an expert in customer service, order fulfillment, accounting etc.

It does not make sense for 2 people sharing the SAME set of skills to form a partnership. This causes redundancy.

The scariest part is that MOST partnerships I see are very much imbalanced, i.e, one party is an expert in SOMETHING, and the other guy in the partnership is an expert in NOTHING. (Though he claims he is a Facebook expert, but when quizzed on how he will add value to the business, he will simply claim that he will post the company’s offerings and services on his Facebook Page daily.) Really??

So before you even think about embarking down this route, really check if its entirely necessary to even have a partner on board during startup phases.


Question 2: Do you really need a partner, or is it just because it feels good to have one?

Dan Kennedy, legendary marketer and maverick coach, often says, he prefers a business with less partners and employees. The reason is simple. Most people do not share your passion and skills in conducting a business.

For you, if you really could justify the reasons for having a partner, that’s fine and dandy with me. But if the real reasons why you want a partner includes the below, it’s time to wake up.

– I feel lonely, and afraid to embark on this journey alone.

– I want to feel good about my business and have someone there to make it look bigger than a one-man army.


Business is not an easy game to play. It requires swift decisions, with a like minded partner, who has a logical approach to discussions and not emotionally charged all the time.

Youkcan’t wait around all day for your partner to decide to work harder or give more input into the business.


Cons of having an unjustified partnership


1) Most people think they are worth more than they really are.

I conducted an informal survey, asking friends their salaries, and whether they thought that they are being underpaid. 90% of the time, most people say that they are being underpaid, ranging from 20% to 100% of the sum they feel that they should be fairly paid for their “worth and time”

This however, isn’t true.Employees have to work much harder and bring more dollats to justify a salary raise.

2) Most partners, especially those who did not own the idea, will never come to accept the business as their own and act accordingly

In most partnerships, there are always the idea-hatchers (the ones who thought of the business idea) and the ones who joined at a latter stage after being persuaded by the idea-hatchers. Often times, the ones who joined later, simply join because they want to be part of a team, or afraid to reject the idea when approached (yes-men) or simply wants a share of the profits (without putting in the due hard work)

As such, most of them will simply “tag-along” and not reall9 be productive, or do revenue generating activities. I have seen enough of these idiots to know they exist. If these people are among your partners, it’s time to kick them out right away. They are toxic to your business.


3) Profits have to be shared =(

%pAThat, for me, is a major bummer. The reason why i go into business is so i can provide a lifestyle that I, my family, and loved ones can enjoy in the future. Having to share this pie is a horrible thought (though usually more so in the latter profit-producing stages than the early startup phase)

I use a simple analogy to illustrate my point here.

Kid Boat Cartoon Drawing

Courtesy of Layout Parks

2 Fishermen, 1 Boat tale 

Two men, best friends, from the same village, one day decide that they should start fishing and selling their fish at a local market as a livelihood.

However, they both own a small boat each.

If they decide to go out to sea together, they will use the same boat, and fish at the same spot in the sea. Doing this, they each catch about 12 kg of fish daily, and they have a great time, talking while the fishes bite at their bait all day long.

On the other hand, should they decid% to go out alone on their small boats, and fishing at different areas, their total catch per day is about 20 kg (almost double if they had gone out to sea together.

The above illustrates a point.

A) If you like making LESS profits for each person, while having a leisurely time chatting and idling during your business, bring a partner onboard.


B) If you see business as a profit tool and believe that profits should be maximised, then you will consider going solo as the obvious choice, with your potential partner going into the market on his own.

This technique is not unheard of.

In places like Singapore, family members, instead of opening up the same carpet shop, open up instead 3 or 4 shops in the vicinity as competitors. At Sim Lim Square in Singapore, relatives open up computer and handphone shops next to each other, effectively acting as competitors, instead of languishing in the same store or shop.

All of them obviously see the benefits of going out to sea in the small boat alone.


Courtesy of Forbes

So when is it good to have a partnership?

1) When both partners can contribute in a major way, in a complementary manner.

2)If both partners has outlined clearly the profit sharing

3)If both partners have a complementary working style and attitude.


An alternative to having a partner, is to simply hire an employee.


After all, an employee is so much cheaper, and easier to fire once they have become lazy or redundant to your business.

Remember, there is only ONE indispensable person in your business, and that is YOU.