Business partnerships are not easy.
I’ve been in four of them. I’ve partnered with one person and had a partnership with multiple people.
One of them worked better than all of the others, and it changed my life. Here’s how it happened.
I just won my biggest client ever, but I didn’t have the skills to do any of the work. The project was for a large non-profit in New York City who needed a website redesigned. The only problem was that I wasn’t a developer nor a designer.
So, I reached out to a married couple who could do the work — Jason and Kat Froderman. We had worked together on previous projects, and they did great work.
At that time, I was living in San Diego, but I decided to move back to St. Louis, my hometown. The Frodermans also lived there.
So I left the sun, beach, and consistent 70-degree weather and spent a week driving through deserts, forests, mountains, and plains. The time was filled with beauty, and I was inspired. The journey gave me space to stretch my mind, and my thoughts reached into the future.
During that time, I realized that I couldn’t build a business alone. I could sell, and I believed that I could manage a business. But, I wasn’t sure. I was sure that I needed help. I needed someone to work with me to build a company. I needed a business partner.
Jason and I met to discuss the new project. But, then our conversations went from the project to the future. We began talking about the possibility of partnering.
I trusted Jason. And, it looked like the feeling was mutual. We had already been working together for over a year. It only seemed to get better as time went on. Jason seemed excited about the idea of working together. But, I had never met Kat, Jason’s wife.
He needed Kat’s blessing to continue. So we met at a coffee shop. Jason made the introduction and then left us alone to talk. We might have had a sentence or two of small talk. But, then we got right down to business.
“So why are you still single?” she asked.
I was startled by the directness of her question, but I wasn’t surprised that she asked it. I was thirty-three years old at the time and had anticipated a question about my marital status. It was a fair question — one that I would have asked if I were in Kat’s position.
I was a relative stranger to her. Kat had only heard about me through her husband. She had never interacted with me, and I was talking to them about partnering with them in business, giving me a direct impact on their livelihood. I’m sure she knew some of the basic facts of my story, which didn’t help.
I was a guy that had moved to New York to work at a church but got fired from it. Then I stayed in the city for seven years but hadn’t managed to settle down. I moved to San Diego for a girl but failed to make that relationship stick. And, now, I wanted to partner with them.
It was a serious request, and Kat had every right to ask me about my non-existent marital status. Business and love are all about relationships. Her question gets to the heart of relationships.
She wasn’t asking why I was single. Instead, Kat was asking me if I had the ability to have a healthy committed relationship. It was exactly the right question to ask me because I didn’t look like the model for relational best practices.
I told her that it just hadn’t been my time. And, that I’ve looked, but God hasn’t blessed me in that way, yet. And I also told her that I had good friends, even from kindergarten, and treasured relationships. But, for some reason, I hadn’t been fortunate enough to find the right person to marry.
Kat seemed satisfied. She asked me other questions, but none of the others compared to the first. After that conversation, I always respected Kat for her forthrightness and insight.
After a few days, Jason told me that Kat had given her blessing. Jason said that Kat trusted him with the business, but she still wanted to talk to me directly to get a sense of who I was. After that one talk, she delegated all of the business dealings to Jason and me.
When Jason and I continued our conversations about the partnership. Two phrases stood out — “it’s marriage without the sex,” and “we are stronger together than apart.”
We both believed that business partnership is intimate and committed. It was something to take seriously. If we partnered, we would discuss money, dreams, and decisions in ways that felt like a marriage. But, we weren’t married — and wouldn’t be having sex. At the same time, we also knew that our skills and abilities were complimentary. I couldn’t code, and he couldn’t sell. He couldn’t grow a business, and I wasn’t as smart as him.
Jason and Kat had grown a sizable business, but they never grew beyond the two of them. Jason didn’t like wearing all of the hats — sales, accounts receivables, project manager, and developer. He had been successful as a freelancer, but he wanted to do more and knew he needed help.
I also had grand dreams. The projects that I was winning were bigger, and I had been a part of the hiring process at my previous jobs. I knew what it was like to be in a large corporation and grow a small business.
After weeks of deliberation and prayer, we signed a partnership agreement. We became fifty-fifty partners. All of the advice that I read online said that that was unwise, but I believed it was the right thing to do with Jason.
A few days after we made our marriage-without-the-sex official, we started talking about revenue and what we would pay ourselves. We had some clients from our previous ventures, which helped us start.
Jason told me how much money that he and Kat were making before we partnered. I was shocked. Then I did some quick calculations in my head and told him that we needed to cut his compensation in half. Then, he was shocked.
He quickly looked at me and said he needed to talk to Kat about this but thought that it would be fine. I had always been impressed by Jason’s intellect and abilities, but that was when I became aware of his character. He was self-sacrificing and courageous. That was when I knew that we could survive anything. By that act, he won my undying loyalty.
As we settled into the new normal of partnership, it went smoothly. Jason and I worked well, and it was fun. But the business wasn’t easy.
We lost more projects than we won. I hated getting rejected. What I hated more than getting rejected was telling Jason that we had gotten rejected. But his reaction was almost always something like this. “Well, I guess God will provide something else.” Then we would talk about some other aspect of our business.
For nearly a decade, we created a full-service branding agency and watched our business grow from two to sixteen people. We added two other partners and then lost them. Then we saw our staff get cut by half. We’ve gained clients and lost them. We’ve faced uncertainty every day. But, we’ve decided to meet the challenges and successes together.
We’re married. Without the sex.