What Are Some Early Red Flags That A Start-Up Partner Is Extremely Difficult To Work With?

Maybe I don’t know what I want, but I certainly know what I don’t want.

Maybe I don’t know how to find a good partner, but I certainly know how to avoid a bad one.

Deal with real people not with avatars

Again, there are no guarantees. However, the bitter experience taught me that people hiding behind avatars and funny usernames should be treated with extra care. On the other hand, you have real people with real names. Usually, the owners of companies include their full name and surname, phone numbers, the address of the company, and similar. You see a photo of the real person, smiling or not, but that’s not the point.

I’m not implying that you won’t have problems with potential partners who don’t have problems with transparency, but I’m saying you won’t have the problems, associated with reliability. You may end up in a disagreement, but at least you won’t have to worry about being burned.

Why so serious?

I personally have a huge problem with people in both private and professional life, who lack even the minimal ability to enjoy and share a positive sense of humor. I’m not saying that you should be best buddies with your partner or partners in startup business, but at least, you should test your partner’s preferences when it comes to humor. I like to leave lucid jokes in emails or messages, just to see the reaction.

Those partners playing tough and deadly serious all the time, usually have something to hide. Again, you should know where is the fine line you shouldn’t cross. Otherwise, your partner may think you are some kind of an entertainer rather than a reliable partner yourself.

This approach is something I borrowed from my personal life. I often had some serious discussions with my wife and even disagreements. When we meet some people, I just feel very uncomfortable when they either don’t like or miss to offer jokes. Most of these guys turn out to be not so reliable for long-term friendships.

No working history — No trust

This is something specific and important for the world of business, but not for startups. I’m aware. I always check someone’s business history to the best of my abilities and available information. Also, what is the number of total startups previously launched by my potential partner? What is the ratio of open and closed startup projects? Discussing the previous business history can be a good way to get some idea of what kind of a potential partner you are dealing with.

Devil is in the details that often don’t make any sense

Being on alert can be quite an exhausting activity. I know it and I totally understand it. You should worry about your startup rather than play hide and sick with your partner. So, this story only makes sense as a preventive measure. You need to identify a problematic partner at the very beginning before you even launch your startup. However, this doesn’t mean that you should be carefree all the time.

Do your homework. Scan and test your partner as much as you can before you decide whether or not you should work with him in the first place. Then, just relax and do your work. Don’t be android paranoid all the time. At the same time, don’t ignore your intuition. Be prepared to accept the unexpected.

I read somewhere that you need your brains to work, but you also need your stomach to survive out there in the startup wilderness. If I feel that something is wrong, it doesn’t mean that is necessarily bad. However, this means that I should pay some extra attention and do my best to check the situation.

The basic presumption is that people are bad rather than good

If you interpret this point quite literally then you are going to end up in trouble of not being able to launch a single startup. Have you seen at least one post-apocalyptic TV show? Well, usually the hero and his group are some decent guys living and fighting in the tough world. They don’t treat all survivors as bad people, but they presume that all those guys out there aren’t roaming around with good intentions.

I approach every new partnership with a grain of salt. Then I wait and hope that he or she will prove me wrong. Hope we can agree that this is a much better scenario compared with the situation where your basic presumption is that all partners are cool guys who won’t do you harm under any circumstances.

Final thoughts

Trust me I did my very best to describe something that is very often quite an intuitive process for me. I told you already. Finally, the most important thing to remember is that successful prevention is the key. Once you found yourself in an unhealthy business relationship then it is too late. Usually. The catch is to identify the problem before it becomes a problem for you.

I also realized that a bad partner actually gives you two problems. The first time when he ruins your startup opportunity with his wrongdoings. The second time when you lose time, energy, and nerves you should have invested in your other partner waiting in a line. So, it’s double damage.

If I helped at least one potential startup founder avoid at least one bad partner then I call this answer a success. If I learn or read about at least one new warning sign, I would also feel the same way. Yet, this is the real-life we are talking about. So, keep your eyes open and share your bad experiences with all the good guys trying to find reliable startup partners just like you.

Good luck and may only good startup partners come your way!

Originally published on Quora as an answer on February 28, 2022.

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