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How to Find the Right Business Partner

Here's what to look for in your company's soul mate.

When starting a business, many entrepreneurs quickly realize the need for partners who can help their company get off the ground or later grow it to the next level.

A small percentage of people have all the necessary skills and experience they need to bring a product to market, sell it and manage their finances all on their own, says Steve Nielsen, founder and CEO of But more often, it becomes essential for small-business owners to find people to augment their particular skills and experience.

In many cases, though, finding the right business partner at the right time can be very difficult -- and the failure to do so can spell disaster for a company.

For example, in 2003, Nielsen came up with the idea for a radio frequency identification product. He talked about it to a friend of his who worked in marketing and business. His friend thought it was a great idea and soon the two of them started working on it and building a company.

"For a couple of months we were busy trying to get everything in line while we searched for an electrical engineer to actually design the product," Nielsen says. "We knew it was feasible and practical, it was just a matter of finding somebody who had radio frequency (RF) experience in an electrical engineering background."

Nielsen and his friend, he says, spent months searching for an RF engineer, who they could bring on as a third partner in the company. They weren't able to find one, though, forcing them to abandon the business.

A few months after the company had been dissolved, Nielsen stumbled upon an electrical engineer with RF experience who had been looking to for an opportunity to get involved in a start-up, but by that time it was too late.

"That was the point at which I realized there has got to be a way to connect

entrepreneurial business partners," Nielsen says. "We kept looking for a way that we could find people we needed on the Internet, but there wasn't anything out there for those who wanted to come together and start a company to find each other."

Thus, the idea for was born.

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After developing the site for a little more than two years, launched in April. Already more than 10,000 members have signed up for the service and they've been hearing feedback from users who've found partners and found the service useful, Nielsen says.

"About 80% of the people who perform a search on the Web site are able to find one or more matches they are looking for," the 25-year-old entrepreneur says. "I would say we are probably about three or four months away to hitting 100%."

What to Look For

When looking for a business partner, there are a few things entrepreneurs should keep in mind, Nielsen says.

First and foremost, look for complimentary skills and experience, he advises. "From all the people we've talked to and all the research we've done, it seems like the most successful business partnerships are always places where people are bringing distinct experience to the company."

A lot of users ask why they shouldn't go into business with a friend or family member. However, "more than people who you might like or have worked with before, I think it's really important that people look for somebody that has the skills that the company needs that they themselves can't offer," Nielsen stresses. "Your potential business partner's skills shouldn't

duplicate your skills."

Second, "really get to know people and understand them before you go into business with them, whether they're a friend or family member or whether they're someone you met online," he says. When building a relationship with your partner, "make sure their goals and work philosophy are in line with yours."

Finding a business partner online, Nielsen says, is like using an Internet dating service. "Obviously you wouldn't just go marry someone you met on the Web site instantly," he says. "Similarly, you need to get to know the person and really build a relationship with them before you go into business with them."

Also, be open to possibilities, Nielsen says. People tend not to consider the possibility of taking on business partners who are in a different age bracket.

When people who are older and retired come together with younger entrepreneurs, "we've really seen (that) those relationships have been very successful," he says. There are a surprising number of semi-retired and retired people who are looking to get involved in entrepreneurial ventures, and they are often overlooked.

Young entrepreneurs should be open to the thought of hiring older business partners, if for no other reason then the fact that they are usually more professionally experienced.

Rather than looking for the complementary business partners, entrepreneurs always have the option of trying to gain the necessary skills they need to move ahead on their own and in many instances they are able to, Nielsen says. "But it might not be as fast or successful and there's always the chance they might miss their window of opportunity."