Editor’s note: Entrepreneur’s Journal #9 is coming soon. Yes, we know this is #10. Sometimes life is like that.
This could probably be called “Partnerships Part Two.” Endings are always anticlimactic right? If they aren’t it probably isn’t over yet. Normally, I’d write this journal in the heat of the moment to make sure it’s still fresh, but this time I couldn’t. There was a rawness to the experience I wasn’t ready to confront head on until now.
Several weeks ago my business partner decided to move on from our company. His decisions wasn’t entirely surprising but the timing of it was. We were right in the middle of our first big marketing push, had several months of testing behind us and were both seemingly flexible enough on our individual visions to make One Wild Life work as a mobile office company specializing in creating adventure off-site experiences for corporations and continuing to build our community of people looking for an alternative working life. A new way of working that would untether them from the desk, and take them into the wild.
Things were tenuous and exciting. There was this feeling, this surge like a wave being underneath us that we were about to crest up our start-up wave, and move into a more established space of success. Or at least breaking even. Hell, we were, are, still a start-up. Our first major marketing push was only halfway to completion, and we hadn’t begun to see the fruits of our labor yet. At least, that’s how I felt. My partner was swinging in a different direction. Fear that we weren’t taking off fast enough. That our concept was unproven and some realization that maybe being an entrepreneur wasn’t for him. I’m assuming some of those feelings in retrospect. Maybe it was something else completely.
On a Friday he told me he was maybe, kind of, thinking about looking at a different career path. We had tacos. I had a beer, and tried to be understanding. He was obviously conflicted about the conversation. At the time we talked about seeing our first marketing push through before he made any bigger decisions. That was Friday.
After some processing I got mad. I started to feel like a soon to be ex-girlfriend. At our next meeting I told him so. Paraphrasing, “It’s like you told me you want to break up, but want to stay together to make sure something better comes along. And that’s bullshit.” Over the course of 72 hours we had gone from looking out at the future of our company together to looking in different directions. For the moment, neither of us understood the other’s position. I pushed him to make a decision, and he did. He would leave the company.
Then came the difficult part. How would we extricate him from the business? How would the business continue functioning with only half it’s team? How would we deal with the debts we’d incurred, the assets, the separating of our partnership? Being in a business partnership is not unlike being in a marriage. We had joint credit cards, joint bank accounts, owned assets together and our corporate status bound us together in the eyes of the State. For the first time since we started working on this idea of a company more than 18 months ago, we had different priorities. What was best for him was not what was best for the company or me.
We set a meeting, and agreed to come to the table with plans for the divorce. That’s when the internal conflicts intensified. I prepared for every scenario I could imagine he would put forth. Some that were fair. Some that were better for him. Some that were a no-win. I got angrier and angrier throughout the week. I’d say it was because I felt betrayed, but that isn’t really true. It was because for as much as I wanted what was best for the company and by extension me, I also wanted what was best for my friend. How could I want both?
Digging deeper I realized some of my anger and frustration wasn’t just because the company was going to be affected, but because I was losing someone I had come to appreciate and depend upon. We had built something from nothing. We started as acquaintances, became partners and grew into a strong friendship. We talked, texted and e-mailed nearly every day. More often than not we saw each other in real life. I barely slept for several days agonizing over it.
Even realizing that, I came to our meeting ready to fight. I came ready to do business, and demand what was best for One Wild Life in my opinion. I knew there were concessions I’d be willing to make but I was prepared to have to negotiate to get there.
We met a new coffee shop. Neutral territory. We had some small talk, and I turned the floor over to him, wanting him to lay his cards on the table first so I could adapt to one of the scenario’s I had planned for. Then he did something I hadn’t prepared for. He offered to sacrifice himself.
I had no idea what to do. It wasn’t the kind of thing a business person might have done, but it was exactly the kind thing I should have expected from my friend. All of a sudden the decision I had been fighting for (to keep things as they were) was flipped around on me and I had to make the choice. Keep on the same path alone, or pivot and do something new or more specific to the new set of circumstances I found myself in.
I made the decision to pivot, and from then on we worked together to make our divorce as functional and easy as possible. We drew up a new contract and signed it. We filed papers with the state, and worked out the money issue. I started working on a new OWL concept and am still working on it today, but instead of being resentful part of me is grateful. I don’t have to be stoked on the timing of his decision or the time this has taken away from progressing the company forward, but without the past 18 months I wouldn’t have learned so much. I wouldn’t have gotten this far. Without each other OWL wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t be working on continuing it into the future.
Would I start a new business with a business partner in the future? I don’t know. The right circumstances make all things possible. I’ve lost a great business partner, but learned that sometimes you shouldn’t try and do it all yourself. As for OWL, the near future is filled with collaboration. The more smart, talented and motivated people with a bent for adventure and spending their lives outdoors the better.
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