How to Find the Right Business Partner for You

By Emily Meyer.

I was honored to speak at this year’s Alt Summit, and am excited to tell you about how I found the right business partner—and, by extension, how you can do the same.

Twelve years ago, I was designing the "little girls" collection at Esprit. I had an brewing idea for a brand inspired by the discovery of global cultures. It was a beautiful concoction of my life experiences up to that point in time.

I met Leigh Rawdon at a party - our husbands were friends from business school - and we began chatting about work and life. She was passionate about starting her own business someday. Then eventually I told her my idea for a brand. Her eyes lit up and she said, “Tell me more.” Leigh believed in my idea—and I soon learned that she had the skills and experience to turn my concept into an actual business.

It might seem that Leigh and I were just plain lucky to meet and then to co-found Tea Collection. But there was more than luck, it was fate. Here's what I’ve learned about finding the right business partner:

Know Your Strengths
Leigh and I made a good match because we had complementary strengths. I had design skills, industry experience, and a love of travel. Leigh had entrepreneurial skills, a passion for success, and even more belief in my vision than I had. Both of us were successful in our respective fields, but together we realized we could launch a business that neither could build alone.

Know What You Want
Before Tea Collection had a name, a shape, or even one prototype sample, Leigh and I talked candidly about what we wanted. We both wanted a real company and not a hobby. We both wanted to build something bigger than ourselves. We wanted to save time for our families and to avoid being spread too thin. We wanted to have fun at work. And we wanted to share the adventure—and the burden—of a new business.

Take a Road Trip Together
Once we compared our wants and dreams but before we sealed our business marriage, Leigh and I took one more compatibility test: we went on a road trip. After writing and rewriting our business plan, we hit the road to talk to banks and investors and advisors. These meetings gave us a chance to see each other in action, to check for compatibility, and to enhance our strengths and to discover more weaknesses. The weaknesses helped us to see where we’d need other people to help us.

Ride the Roller Coaster
In August of 2002, eleven months after I was laid off from my job at Esprit, Leigh and I officially started Tea Collection at my dining table. Our “line” consisted of three pima cotton baby sweaters. Today we have a full range of clothes for girls, boys, and babies— including a few sweaters, tops, and dresses for moms. Have we faced ups and downs in our twelve years of Tea? Absolutely. But Leigh and I expected the challenges because we’ve always talked about them. And we knew change was inevitable - so we’ve always adapted to fill the evolving roles and shifting expectations that come with growth.

It’s tremendously gratifying to launch a business and to see it thrive. And I have never worked so hard in my life - I have called it "life-affirming." Today, Leigh and I measure success by how loyal our customers are, by how strong our company culture is, by how much our brand is growing, and by how much fun we’re having.

Yes, fun remains an essential ingredient in our business marriage. I strongly recommend that you put it on your wish list as you seek your ideal partner.