Tag Archives: entrepreneur

2 heads are better than 1… even if the experts say otherwise

Paul and Mary at No.10

I’ve always been a strong advocate of having a business partner and I practice what I preach by having a great relationship with Mary who’s been my business partner for over 7 years and 2 companies. I recently wrote about meeting John Teeling and one of his mantras is that if you are an entrepreneur you are on your own.. I agree with a lot of what John says but we’re on different sides of this one.. .here’s why: My honest view is that if Learning Pool had been led by Mary or I, rather than Mary and I there would be no Learning Pool today. This is because:

1. When things were really hard (and they were) in the early days there were times when one of us wanted to give up, change direction in a random way, or run away! On those days having someone to be the voice of reason or supply a kick where it was required saved the business more than once;

2. We’re more ambitious. I think the temptation as a one man band would have been to accept a certain level of success and not rock the boat. being a double act means that you have more confidence to stretch and that can mean your business grows further, faster or better;

3. 2 heads are always better than one and this leads to better decision making, fewer mistakes (regrettably not few enough) and more balanced thinking. Often the exercise of simply verbalising a problem gets you closer to the answer but if you don’t have a peer to share with, who do you talk to?;

4. It’s more craic!… we’ve had hours of fun making our team guess which one was good cop and which was bad cop… and you can’t do that on your own!

In the end I think businesses today are just the same as businesses of 20 years ago in every respect except one. The pace of business today is incomparable – things change so quickly and its impossible to keep up and keep your eye on the things that matter if you are on your own. Maybe this is because of how we use technology and maybe its because most start-ups are in technology. Indeed, maybe it doesn’t matter but I think it is a fact!

So if this is so important how do you go about finding the business partner who can share the biggest risk of your life with? The cynic would say that in a partnership you get 100% of the bad stuff and 50% of the good so choosing the right business partner could be the biggest decision of all. Regrettably there’s no magic answer to this one, but I do think there are some general principles to stick to:

1. Find someone with complementary skills to you;

2. It needs to be a partnership so it must be equal;

3. Ask yourself whether you can disagree with this person and not have a massive and unhelpful row every 5 minutes;

4. Don’t compromise on commitment – if you aren’t both equally committed to the project it’ll fail and it’ll be messy so be honest about what you want, what you are prepared to commit and what you expect. If you don’t hear the same its not going to work;

5. Work out a system where communication is effective and you both stay on the same page. This is increasingly important when you get a team because if you and your partner are on different sides, the team will smell it and it’ll be bad;

6. You don’t have to live in your partner’s pocket but you do have to get on.. whatever happens next its going to be intense from time to time so find someone you wouldn’t mind being stuck in an airport for 36 hours with.

Now if only there was a place to go to find great business partners we’d all be grand!

Sometimes meeting your heroes is OK!

I had the pleasure of meeting someone I’ve admired for a lifetime last weekend. I first ‘met’ John Teeling while I was studying in UCD and he came to talk to my post graduate class about entrepreneurship. He was captivating then and lots of what he said stayed with me. He’s since gone on to exit one of his companies, a whiskey distillery in Ireland that he sold to a US giant last year and has generally become one of Ireland’s seminal entrepreneurs. When I met him on Saturday I was a little nervous since it was a long time ago and the world has moved on… I need not have worried.

A number of things struck me about John:

John Teeling at #borderbizcamp

  1. He was remarkably down to earth and friendly, chatting comfortably with the event organisers and generally getting involved;
  2. His passion for business is probably greater now than when I seen him 15 years ago. I was left wondering what I’ll be doing (and looking like!) when I’m old enough to get on the bus for free!
  3. He was incredibly direct – it took him about 4 questions to get to the “are you profitable?” one… thank God I could give him the right answer on that!
  4. He is a true entrepreneur… who knows how he survived for so long as an academic! Pretty refreshing in a world increasing populated by plastic start-up guys.

His talk at #borderbizcamp was predictably well attended and entertaining. He talked about some fundamental stuff around being and entrepreneur and the crowd where on the edge of their seats. For John, the essentials of being an entrepreneur are:

  1. To have an idea and be the person who drives that idea with a single minded determination and focus;
  2. Having the resources to make it happen. He made some great comments about how entrepreneurs don’t often have the resources they need (especially money!) but can go about getting hold of them through fair means or foul!;
  3. Having the ability to deal with uncertainty – you often hear people talking about this but John articulates this quality better than most. This is not really about risk – plenty of entrepreneurs hate risk and regardless, we all do our best to manage or mitigate it. Its really about there being stuff (often bad stuff) out there that you don’t know and the fact that you don’t know it doesn’t make you panic. Regrettably of course this doesn’t mean you aren’t awake at 4am worrying about the shite you do know about!;
  4. Enthusiasm, drive and dedication. Plenty of the talks at #borderbizcamp reflected this and interestingly most of the speakers I listened to had similar stories about picking their business up after an initial ‘honeymoon’ period and forcing it to kick onto the next level. John’s point was pretty simple – if you don’t have this… just forget about the whole thing!

So all in all a great day and a nice way to checkpoint where I am. #borderbizcamp was held in the town where I grew up which was weird in itself but nice to see a few friendly faces. It was also the day where I learned that there a lot of similarities between e-learning and forklift trucks… but that’s for another blog!