Recruiting a partner for your startup is a bit like looking for romance: the end goal is a long-term, stable, and mutually fulfilling relationship (generally speaking). What should you look out for in a potential business partner: complementary skills? Shared values? After talking with Karim-Franck Khinouche, the founder of Novolyze, I find the choice to be clear.
In 2012, Karim-Franck Khinouche launched his startup, today called Novolyze
with the heady goal of revolutionising food safety by validating bacterial decontamination processes. Although a highly specialised subject, his idea is incredibly simple: using non-pathogenic ‘friendly’ bacteria that mimic the behaviour of harmful bacteria to check food safety without disrupting or contaminating production lines. If you want to find out more, this video will give you a more detailed idea.
Novolyze has been active within Vitagora
since 2012, benefiting from their membership to build their business profile in France and abroad, to find scientific and business partners, and finally – in the words of Karim himself! – to take advantage of the “culture of openness, helpfulness and motivation” of Vitagora’s team.
Today an AcceleRise
mentor, this young but ambitious entrepreneur shares his experience on creating his company (currently at 17 employees) and taking on new partners.
Values VS skills
When you found your startup, you tend to focus on practical issues: protecting your brand, building a business model etc. You don’t usually take stock of what is at stake when you choose to take on a business partner,” admits Karim. “I spent two years alone at the reins of my company before finding a partner... and ended up once again alone at the helm two years later.”
To avoid problems of incompatibility, which run the long term risk of destabilising the company, my advice would be to look closely at shared values over a choice purely based on skills.
In the words of Antoine de St Exupery, “Love does not consist in looking at one another, but in looking together in the same direction” (you’re welcome for the crash course in French literature), a sentiment that is entirely applicable to creating a business partnership. You get the idea: it is essential to be on the same wavelength regarding the strategic vision of your shared project, and indeed to be in sync on a more personal level.
However, many startup teams are built primarily around a skill set. I’ve seen it often: a technology expert, a business manager, a creative type etc. After talking with Karim, this strategy appears to present a major weakness… while you may quickly get your activity off the ground, you may meet problems further down the road. Karim also confirms that it is “always possible to fill in skill’s gaps: you can recruit, call on external resources or partners, or indeed upskill internally!” On the other hand, values are what form the basis of shared goals. “All pivots in strategy over the years hinge on founding values.”
Couple’s therapy for business partners (this is no joking matter)
Practically, what advice can you give? “Before recruiting a partner for your project, you need to be clear, with no prevarication,” says Karim.
Ask a series of questions, for example: What are your personal goals and strategies for the next 5 to 10 years? How will our shared business venture help you to reach these goals? What is the value of family? And work? Is entrepreneurship for you a means to an end (money, network…)? Where does your personal fulfillment fit into this equation? And so on. There is no implied judgement of the values expressed, simply a confirmation of the level of compatibility of two potential partners and the identification of possible sticking points to keep an eye on.
And once the partner is on board, keep the communication open.
Karim confides: “I know of business partners who regularly take part in sessions of couples’ therapy… Therapy for business partners doesn’t exist yet!” Of course, this makes you smile, but it’s easy to see the relevance of ensuring that a disconnect does not take place between the partners’ respective visions and values, and to find a safe space to bring up taboo questions (for example, is one or the other is considering leaving? how to annonce and manage the transition with the other employees?).
Indeed, according to Karim, “the business ‘couple’ in question work well together”.
So, if he was to do it again? While hesitant to lay claim to a single solution, Karim takes stock of his experience: “Clearly, I would look for a business partner who shares my values, because being alone to lead the company is a huge challenge. However, I would take that development much more seriously and would put in place better conditions for effective communication.”
By Christophe Breuillet
Managing director of Vitagora and AcceleRise, Christophe is the big boss! His various areas of expertise cover innovation and food business development, internationalisation and influence strategies… basically Food “Business” with a capital B! You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org