5 Qualities to Look for in a Business Partner
Ashley Wayman, formerly of Petit Peony, shares her checklist.
As Ashley Wayman puts it, she went back to school—Harvard Business School, to be exact—after a stint in finance to open her mind to other industries. “I found myself falling in love with small businesses and startups,” she recalls. She went on to head up operations at Rent the Runway just as the now-mega-business was getting off the ground, before moving to Boston to run Rue La La’s mobile marketing team during the flash-sale-site boom. Then, after leading the promotions team for two years at home goods e-commerce site Wayfair, Ashley got pregnant. “I realized that I wasn't going to be able to balance corporate life with being a mom and see both of those endeavors through the way I wanted to,” she says.
She looked through her contacts to find something more entrepreneurial, where she could still work hard and make an impact while keeping flexible hours. Ashley’s brother introduced her to his next-door neighbor in Vermont, Kate Bowen, who had started a girls’ dress business. Using local seamstresses to produce her designs, Kate took her samples on a boutique road show in New England and attended the ENK Children's Club trade show at the Javits Center. Boutiques went wild for the youthful prints and wholesome designs. “It’s pretty unheard of for a new brand to be successful at a first trade show like that, but people loved Petit Peony,” says Ashley. She was intrigued. “Then, I found out I was pregnant with a girl, and it all clicked.”
Ashley left her full-time job, and she and Kate had five months before her due date to get the ball rolling on growth plans for Petit Peony—they changed production facilities (the whole line is manufactured in Massachusetts) and rebranded the business before Ashley’s daughter was born. Just a year later, the adorable kids’ brand calls Blake Lively and Jessica Alba fans.
The secret to running a successful business while starting a family? According to Ashley, it’s a great business partner. “When I met Kate and talked to her, I instantly realized how perfect our partnership would be because our skill sets were so complimentary,” she says. “She inspired me with her creativity and fearlessness and most importantly, when my daughter was born, she understood the demands of early motherhood." Since they met, the business has taken off like wildfire. “Building a business, especially with a new baby, is a leap of faith,” Ashley says. “Every day it's a roller coaster of emotions. Choosing the right person to ride it out with makes all the difference.” She shared her top five qualities to look for in a business partner.
1. A skill set that’s the yin to your yang
Your partner should bring something different to the table and have a skill you don’t have yourself, but that's important to the business. While it’s nice to have some things in common (more on that later), finding a balance and being able to divide and conquer based on expertise has proven to be a recipe for success. Think: a technologist and a marketer, a designer and an operator, a dreamer and a realist—these pairings make your business stronger.
2. Strong communication and conflict-resolution skills
Honest and real-time communication is so important to a healthy partnership. Look to see how your partner resolves conflict. Find someone who reaches agreements with others using logical, data-driven approaches. The more Kate and I understand each other, the better—it allows us to inspire and support each other.
3. A shared vision and goals
While you and your partner might be motivated by different things, it’s vital to align on common goals and a vision for the business. Be comfortable with these things changing over time, but, again, communicate and align on your priorities weekly, if not daily. Building a business comes with many challenges and requires an around-the-clock effort, so it can be easy to lose track of your big-picture goals. A partner who is both aligned on and passionate about your company’s purpose is your best ally.
4. Trustworthiness and a kind heart
In any good partnership, whether it's a business relationship or a life partnership, there must be trust. I have always looked to work with and for kind-hearted people who value honesty. Honesty leads to more informed decision-making, healthy partnerships and, above all, a moral and transparent work culture. These are simple, but essential qualities to look for. When I was looking for my next opportunity, I felt really strongly about working with someone who had a great moral compass. I was drawn to Kate because I knew she’d make decisions from a position of kindness and fairness—it shows in the way we run our business and treat our customers.
5. A similar life stage to your own
Kids or no kids? Married or single? Being in a similar life stage to your partner’s can help you avoid tension. For example, a single guy who works hard and plays hard likely won't pair well with a father of twins. Kate has three children under five, and I have a seven-month-old daughter. If one of her kids is sick and she needs to take a step back for the day, I completely understand and am happy to pick up the slack. A situation like that may build resentment if the partners are at conflicting stages in their lives. We relate to each other and support each others’ lives outside of the business.
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