February 18 Stage2Startups Panel Discussion

Earlier this year, Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong of Stage2Startups,  moderated a cross-country discussion on partnerships with founders from New York, San Diego and Colorado Springs. Our panelists included:

Christiana Russell and Luis Martinez

Christiana Russell and her partner, Luis Martinez, of WeThaPlug. WeThaPlug advocates for tech and innovation entrepreneurship in Black & Latino communities, providing founders with access to startup fundamental education, advice, mentorship, programming, and funding. 

Stacey Burns and her co-founder, Jonathan Liebert, of Colorado Institute for Social Impact. CI4SI focuses on education, certification, evaluation, and consultation in the Social Impact space in Colorado as well as other cities across the country. 

Stacey Burns and Jonathan Liebert

We were joined by members of the Stage2Startups community who also commented on their experiences with partnerships.

Reflecting on partnerships in our own startup ventures, we agreed with Stacey, Jonathan, Luis and Christiana on the following tips for working together:

  1. Find your comfort level. It is important to find a business partner that you are comfortable with on both a personal and professional level.  You want to make sure you can work with them on a daily basis, and that you can trust and rely on their expertise and business judgement.  
  2. Know your partner. Learn about your partner and understand their strengths and weaknesses so you can motivate and get the best of each other and appreciate the differences each party brings to the team;
  3. Know yourself. Learn to know yourself and be willing to acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses.  It is also important to know your personal values;
  4. Always listen. As Christiana said, “Be slow to speak and quick to hear.” Listen to each other, especially during this time, when it is harder to get together in person. Be sure to check in with each other regularly and have an open door for all conversations, especially the hard conversations;
  5. Share a vision.  As Jonathan said, “You need to share the same North Star.” Even though you and your partner bring different skills to the partnership, it is important  to find someone who shares the same vision of what you want the company to be.

Our panelists all felt that running a business as a solopreneur would be harder, especially when it comes to raising money since investors prefer backing partners.  A partner is valuable both as a sounding board and as backup to get things done, especially if the other partner is momentarily distracted. They also commented on the immense value of being able to leverage each other’s skills to move their businesses forward more quickly and, if a difficult situation arises, to be able to implement a bad cop/good cop strategy. 

On the question of where to find partners, our partners suggest looking for partners among your personal network, meeting people at professional and casual events or even while you are getting an education. If you don’t know the person well, one option is to bring them on as a consultant.  This allows you to “test them out” and see if there is a good fit before fully bringing them on as a partner. Regardless, all agree that it takes work and commitment to be a good partner.

You can learn more about WeThaPlug at https://www.wethaplug.com/

You can learn more about the Colorado Institute for Social Impact at https://www.ci4si.org/

To watch the full panel discussion, go to the Stage2Startups YouTube channel.

(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong


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