Entrepreneurial Partnerships

At the Inc. Magazine Women’s Summit in New York this week we were struck by the prominent role that successful partnerships (and even some partnership failures) played in the launch and growth of most of the businesses featured at the conference.

Starting a business with a partner can help the business move forward at a pace that is very difficult for someone on their own. Entrepreneurs need to move in so many directions at once, thinking about the product, distribution, suppliers, marketing and countless other issues. Multiplying their efforts by having a partner as dedicated to getting those things accomplished as they are can have exponential results, and is one reason we love working with business partners.

Elizabeth Cutler, co-founder of rapidly-growing fitness chain SoulCyle, and one of the Summit speakers, noted the simple math that if they each do 5 things a day to further the business, at the end of the week they’ll have done 50 things. And when there are hundreds of things to be done, this can make a huge difference. Of course, getting twice as many tasks accomplished is not the key to a successful partnership. The SoulCycle partners benefited from a strong shared vision and different skill sets. One partner focused on infrastructure, including the space for classes and the towels (which is a more critical decision in their business than one might think) and the other on the client experience. Cutler’s partner, Julie Rice, credited commitment to communication and a strong work ethic as the bond in their partnership.

Gilt Groupe co-founder Kevin Ryan was clear that his partnership with Dwight Merriman, with whom he co-founded five companies worth well over a billion dollars, was critical in executing the tech side of their vision. Ryan executed all the non-tech aspects and he saw their complementary skills and shared vision as key to their success.

Social entrepreneur Selena Cuffe, co-founder of wine importer Heritage Link Brands partnered with her husband, Khary Cuffe to launch their company. Their shared passion to change the South African wine industry has helped them to retain their idealism as they navigated the obstacles of this complex enterprise. Though not co-founders, Essie Cosmetics founder Essie Weingarten credits her business partner and husband, Max Sortino, with helping her to grow the business that she founded. His role in acting as a strong sounding board when her enthusiasm took over kept her more focused on the core of the business.

In all, over 80% of the presenters at the Summit were in partnerships, or their business was co-founded by partners. These partners seem to recognize that when partnerships work it is “like a symphony”, as the SoulCyle co-founders described their partnership. Still, it isn’t always perfect. SoulCyle was actually founded by three partners, but the third partner exited and launched a rival cycle fitness brand, Flywheel. The SoulCycle partners may have learned from that breakup; they seem committed to focusing on their own growth and success as partners.


TAGS: Partnerships, Co-founders


  • Form strong partnerships
  • Resolve partnership conflict
  • Reinforce your partnership dynamics

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