The Power of Partnerships

Over the last decade, we have seen an exponential surge in women business owners. There has also been a growing number of women entrepreneurs shifting from ownership in small businesses to scalable growth companies. Additionally, to maximize scale and growth opportunities, there are some girl bosses who have decided to make their drive for success a joint effort.  

For the majority, however, lies a reluctance to embrace the idea of co-founding or partnering.  Most of the hesitation can be credited to negative experiences, horror stories, ego and in some cases, failure to see the value in doing so. Although, challenges that partnerships may face warrant real concerns, selecting the right partner can be exactly what's needed for your company to become well positioned for growth.

Here are a few examples of women who have partnered well to maximize value and achieve sustainable success.

Source: The Skimm

Source: The Skimm

Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin , Co-Founders of The Skimm

The Skimm is a daily newsletter geared toward millennial women on the go. It provides easy to digest, bullet-point editorial content and headlines of the day’s most pressing issues and stories.

Carly Zakin, B.A in Political Science, University of Pennsylvania and Danielle Weisberg B.A., American Studies and English, Tufts University,  are from New York and Chicago respectively. While neither had a business background or management experience, they did have extensive experience in journalism, media and a killer drive. They initially met on a college study abroad trip in Rome.  Years later, they would reconnect in Washington D.C. as producers for NBC news. They became friends, roommates and launched The Skimm from their living room couch in 2012.

Since then, The Skimm has gained an audience of 3.5M readers and counting (including Oprah and Sarah Jessica Parker) and has raised $16.39M in funding according to Crunchbase.

source: getty images

source: getty images

Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilson, Co-Founders of Gilt Groupe

Gilt Groupe is an e-commerce site that provides instant insider access to designer labels.

Alexis and Alexandra initially met in an undergraduate Portuguese class at Harvard. They would reconnect in September of 2002 at a mixer for incoming students at the Harvard Business School. Alexandra had just finished 3 years as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch and Alexis had just concluded 3 years at E Bay. In their book, By Invitation Only, they describe themselves as perfect complements. When it was time for Alexis to select a partner for a new venture that would revolutionize fashion e-commerce, she thought of Alexandra immediately. Alexandra was ideal because they not only had a complementary skill set; but complementary personalities. By Invitation Only notes Alexis as a fearless, spontaneous, big-picture thinker and Alexandra as being relentless and efficient with meticulous follow-through. Together, with co-founders Kevin Ryan, Mike Breyzek and Phong Nguyen,  they have raised $286M in funding according to Crunchbase .

Earlier this year Gilt was acquired by Hudson’s Bay Company for $250M.

source: Getty Images

source: Getty Images

Jennifer Fleiss and Jennifer Hyman, Co-founders of Rent the Runway

Rent the Runway is an online e-commerce site that allows women to rent designer apparel and accessories. It has recently moved to a subscription-based model where users can pay a monthly fee to access their favorite fashion finds.

Jennifer Fleiss and Jennifer Hyman met in 2008 at Harvard Business School. They were section mates who would meet regularly to discuss entrepreneurial ideas. Hyman came up with the concept after observing her sister's dilemma of purchasing new dresses to attend weddings, because she refused to wear a dress that she had been photographed in. Hyman discussed the idea with Fleiss and together they began to contact designers and investors; leveraging Harvard Business School to get the necessary meetings. Together, they have helped millions of everyday girls access the Cinderella experience.

So far, Rent the Runway has raised $114.4M in funding.


Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Payal Kadakia and Mary Biggins (not pictured) , Co-founders of ClassPass

ClassPass allows its members to pay a flat monthly fee to take fitness classes at participating studios and gyms.

Payal Kadakia initially founded Classivity, an online system used to reserve fitness classes in 2010 – think OpenTable for fitness classes. She later launch Passport, which introduced a trial membership component to the site. It would give users 10 chances to try 1 class at a given studio however, the model failed after users began signing up with different emails to extend their pass to their favorite classes.  In an attempt to market the business, she met Mary Biggins, who had experience in building successful marketing campaigns for the National Football League and Disney. Together, they adjusted the business model and launched ClassPass in 2013.

To date, ClassPass has booked over 18 million reservations,  and has raised $85M in funding.

Still wondering whether partnership is for you? That’s okay, it’s not for everyone but at the very least, you might consider having a team in place to bring your passion to life.

If you are open to exploring the idea of partnership, here are a few additional points to consider:

1. Be Picky.

Keep in mind, that you are choosing a business partner – not a friend. While healthy partnerships often blossom into long lasting friendships and friendships can make the partnership that much stronger,  it is important to select someone who will serve as a complement to your skill set. Enjoying a person's company, is not the same as building a company with someone. It is important that you can manage both - complements in business and in personality. It also helps to select someone with a background that can attract investors, if that is your primary focus.

2. Define your Win.

Shared vision is critical for a successful partnership. It is important that you sit with your partner to outline your company's goals and objectives. For example, what's the end goal? Are you looking to manage the company long term or to build it, then sell it? Your goals ultimately determine your strategy – they need to align. You cannot afford to be divided on this.

3. Define Roles.

Partnerships, especially equal partnerships, can be tricky because you are both the boss. However, defined roles help to provide structure, measurable outcomes and focus to the partnership.

4. Get Outside Counsel.

I cannot stress the importance of this enough – Hire an attorney to create the partnership agreement that details the specifics.  The less gray area, the better.

5. Expand your Understanding.

Make sure that you both understand the financials. If either of you does not have a business or finance background, invest in a course that can provide some insight. Trust me, this will make communication regarding financials much easier.

If you have additional tips, the conversation continues below. Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts.