Some Thoughts on Partners and Partnerships
By Don Banducci
Experienced business folks often advise the aspiring entrepreneur to try and avoid entering into partnerships. If you can, go it alone. In the formative stages of a young business there are always tons of often messy, difficult issues to deal with. Complicating the situation with the opinions, wants, and needs of partners can be awkward if not downright contentious. One might think that whoever has the greatest percentage share of the pie can more or less have his or her way over partners, but that doesn’t account for the emotional investment that active partners make in a new endeavor. Someone who owns a 15% stake is likely to have every bit as much emotional skin in the game as someone who owns 30 or 40%. And that same minority share-holder just might have some brilliant ideas about how things should run .
So the common wisdom has it, if you can eliminate the above-mentioned variables, so much the better. Anyone who is familiar with the history of Yakima Products knows that the ‘partnership’ between the original four founders, and later on, the 50/50 ownership split between the four founders and our financial partners was a huge part of our success. Given all the players involved and their strengths and weaknesses both as humans and as business people, if it had happened any other way we would have all gone down in flames together, bickering and pointing fingers.
Our secret sauce was that we all had more or less a common vision, but vastly different personalities and skills that we brought to the effort. At first we stepped on one-another and got in each other’s way, but once our dynamics got sorted out, we began to function well as a team. A good example is the contrast between myself and my partner, Steve Cole. I was impatient and somewhat self-involved. Nothing was ever good enough for me. It was love my company, love me. I had a penchant for envisioning our product line of racks and accessories in a general way; how they should function, how they should look and feel; how they should come together as a system, and as a result, what kind of impact they would have on our customers and the marketplace and the building of our brand. Important stuff. But all of this was pretty much in my head. It got spewed out in flurries of words, hand gesticulations and crude drawings. Thank goodness for Steve, a mechanical engineer by degree, an outdoor enthusiast like myself, and a ‘Gyro Gearloose’ kind of tinkerer/inventor-of the highest order. Steve thoughtfully, methodically, albeit sometimes grudgingly, turned rough and wild ideas into three-dimensional realities that worked, and got people down the road.
I drove Steve crazy and did so unapologetically. Market forces were at play and we needed to move fast if we were to secure our place within it. This is where Maggie Banducci, came in. Maggie was the third and essential leg of the Yakima tripod in our formative years. She kept the whole thing from falling over. She would talk me down, build Steve up and bring grace and a fondness for people and process to what was oftentimes a frenzy. She served as the glue that kept us all together, and she was the buffer between Steve and myself that kept us from killing one-another. The oil and water relationship between Steve and I wouldn’t have survived without Maggie standing between us. helping to keep things in perspective.
The moral of the story is when the partnership is balanced between personality traits and skills, it can be unstoppable. If partners share or vie for the same duties and responsibilities, things will probably end badly. For myself, I was so grateful to have others similarly invested, but with distinctly different aptitudes, to share the burdens of a growing business as well as the victories. Although a lot of people think of Don Banducci as the ‘genius’ behind Yakima, (and who am I to argue?) I know better. I absolutely could not have pulled it off without my partners doing what they did best and allowing me to do the same.