This article originally appeared on American Express Open Forum.Having a business partner or co-founder can have it rewards and drawbacks. The good thing is, a partnership is pretty much what you make out of it. Much like a relationship, both have to work towards a common goal to achieve something.
Jeremy Lyman and Paul Schlader, founders of Birch Coffee, the first green coffee shop in New York, have been partners for years and counting. Lyman had been sitting on the idea of opening up a coffee shop for a while when he approached his friend Schlader, who worked in the restaurant industry, about the idea.
“I didn’t expect him to jump in and help, but he sort of invited himself into it,” Lyman says with a laugh. “It turned out to be the best business decision I ever made.”
Though Lyman knows it is possible for a person to run a successful business on their own, he can’t imagine things differently. “There is so much that we do,” he says. “Our business has turned into so much more; we have wholesale accounts, ice coffee jug accounts, a new store opening up in the Upper West Side soon. There are so many benefits to being able to work with someone. Sometimes I can’t imagine having done everything without someone else.”
Talking to Lyman and Schlader, it’s easy to understand the dynamic between them; they often finish each other’s sentences and add on to what each other says, sprinkling back-and-forth jokes into the conversation. Many qualities the pair possess have contributed to Birch Coffee’s success. Here are some of the things they commented on about working with a partner:
On Partnership: “Having a business partner is like a marriage and the business is our child,” says Lyman. “From the beginning, we had similar visions of how we wanted to have that child raised. At first, we didn’t really know what each other’s business ethic was like, but now we’ve become more synchronised. We know what we’re both going out handle before the issue is brought up. “
On Strengths And Weaknesses: Working with a partner gives founders the time to focus more on their strengths and less on their weaknesses. At Birch, Schlader is better with the coffee and food menu and dealing with employees. Lyman is more a business and handyman. Having each other makes it possible for the men to work on the aspects of the business that they enjoy the most.
“I think im better with the mathematical aspects; margins, price setting, payroll,” says Lyman. “We’ve also been fortunate enough to not have to hire a maintenance man for the fixes and installation, because I love to do that stuff.”
“I’m a foodie, so when it comes to food and coffee, I have a specific standard and anything less than that doesn’t leave our bar or kitchen,” says Schlader. “When it comes ot our strengths, we’ve been able to hone those things. Sure, I could make the excel spreadsheet and make the numbers work, but it would take longer and I would like it less.”
On Celebration: What good is a celebration without having someone to celebrate with? Having someone there when things go well is just as important as when things aren’t doing so great. Celebrating also makes them motivated to continue achieving.
“One of the best things about having a business partner is sharing the joy and triumph of the business,” says Schlader. “When we accomplish something we are happy to have each other to celebrate.”
“There’s a lot of high-fiving that goes on around here,” added Lyman. “Each time makes me feel more challenged. A lot of times its because I feel like I need to get up on Paul’s level.”
On Work Ethic: “Work ethic has the potential to pulls partners apart,” says Schlader. “We are both hard workers and care deeply about the business. Some people look at owning a business as a novelty versus the tremendous amount of blood and tears that’s needed to make the business successful.”
“If one person’s work ethic isn’t up to the others, it’s something that you need to discuss,” says Lyman. “Even if something is going to be an uncomfortable situation for us, we do it because we know the business comes first.”
On Comfortability: It took many years for Schlader and Lyman to feel completely comfortable discussing business matters with one another, but both agree that they put egos aside to do what’s best for the business.
“In the beginning I didn’t feel comfortable talking about some necessary things,” says Lyman. “One of the things I struggled with in the beginning was having to let people go. I will never be fully comfortable doing it, but I’ve gotten more used to it. I know that I have to do it because it is in the best interest of business and our relationship. Same goes for dealing with any uncomfortable business issue.”
On Communication: Both men agree that communication and honesty is at the forefront of running a business with someone else. They’ve seen other partnerships disintegrate over issues that could have been solved by properly communicating and telling to the truth to their partner.
“Communication is absolutely essential,” says Lyman. “In fact, communication is one of the founding principles at Birch Coffee. We wanted to create something that fosters creativity and interaction. We have analogue weekend here, where we don’t allow laptops because we want people to sit downstairs and communicate with each other, meet new people. We want to give people a place to come to get out of their own way.”
On Second Opinions: Working with a partner provides an invaluable second opinion, which is something the Birch founders experience over and over again.
“We’re a sustainable business,” says Schlader. “And when we were opening I insisted on using Hudson Valley Fresh milk. It was the best milk out there and I wanted it for our store. But Jeremy was the one that said to me, ‘If we use that milk, we’ll be closing our doors.’ It was pretty expensive milk. It would have practically shut down the business, so we decided not to. Eventually, we were able to afford it, and I was so excited to call Hudson Valley and place that order.”
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