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Picking the Right Business Partner for your Startup

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A startup can take many forms. Some entrepreneurs hit the ground running with their business school classmates, while others may go solo. The majority of companies, however, aren’t very successful without at least a co-founder or a small team. Even Apple started with two Steves behind the wheel (Jobs and Wozniak, that is).

The process of picking a business partner can be akin to choosing a future spouse. Here are some tips for measuring that chemistry:

1. Know What You’re Looking For
First of all, do you even need a partner yet? Are you doing just fine freelancing, or running things on your own? A key part of business is only exhausting money or effort when it’s necessary. You might need to first raise some more money or, if the company is doing well, wait until you’re overflowing with clients before getting some help.
Once you get to this point, it’s wise to assess your needs, not what you’d like to have on staff. Do you need a know-it-all who can probably take over the company when you aren’t looking? How about a heckuva nice guy who always buys you a drink at happy hour, but doesn’t know his revenue from his expenses? Truth be told, you likely want to get the best of both worlds. If the skills and personality traits you each possess are depicted as a venn diagram, you definitely want a lot of overlap, but you also don’t want two giant circles right on top of each other.
Some of the best businesses consist of partners who are exact opposites. One may be the brains behind the operation, while the other is better at socializing with clients. Products or services that demand multiple skill sets could require co-founders from different academic backgrounds. For example, creating a piece of music software minimally requires one person with programming skills, and another with music or audio engineering experience.

2. Be a Secret Agent
Some of the most promising candidates might have some secrets hiding behind the curtain (besides, you know what they always say about the quiet ones). It’s important not to let your trusting nature get the best of you when it comes to this big part of your professional (and financial) career. Be sure to conduct background checks, credit checks, and any other research that can ensure a sound hire. If a resumé or interview claims that your potential partner increased sales at their last company by 50%, make sure the company actually exists, and that someone can vouch for those numbers. A good indicator of trouble is finding out about leftover loans, or other money still owed. While a bit of know-how can allow you to search for this information on your own, many turn to third-party agencies to do it instead.

3. Have a Shared Passion
As with any job or project, no one is going to work with you if they don’t feel excited about it. The best-case scenario is finding a partner with not only an affinity for your product, but even some possible ideas for expansion. When you ask for the candidate’s motivations for joining your team, the response should go beyond a listing of skills and experience. A worthy partner will have a desire in their eyes to work with you, or to execute an idea that they feel should have been tried long ago. The events in this person’s life should also allow for them to follow through on their promise. There should be no prior commitments, or a significant amount of days off, to take away from their time at the office. Of course, this list of demands will sometimes require the founder of a company to “fly someone in” from a different city, state or country. At the very least, in cases where most people haven’t even heard of your idea, you may want to offer generous benefits, such as equity in the company. This is already standard practice for most co-founders, anyway.

4. Have it All On Paper
Even when all is said and done, you still need a legal cushion. Some people don’t get a prenuptial agreement, but this is no love affair. It’s important to have every team member sign a contract, a non-disclosure agreement, or any other document that could help you when things go sour. In fact, if your buddy starts to get manipulative at this point and asks if you even like him anymore, it’s probably best to say “Um, I guess not,” and look for someone else. Better to hurt someone’s feelings than your own bank account. And besides, not having those signatures could come back to bite you in the long run.

5. If You Love Something, Let it Go
Over half of marriages in the U.S. will end in divorce, and your business relationships could go the same route. This is not to say, however, that you have to be a jerk about it. It’s okay to trim the fat and hold employees accountable for their performance. It’s not okay to completely alienate someone who could be a future connection, or to scare the bejesus out of the onlookers. This past August, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong fired a staff member, Abel Lenz, in front of the entire crew. On video, no less. Armstrong did later apologize for the public firing, and had a legitimate reason for letting Lenz go, but he also created some unneeded tension in the room. Not to mention, some bad press in the process as well. Especially for a partner, who may have some privileged, unleaked information about the company, it’s best to end the relationship with the least amount of collateral damage possible.

written by Jeremy Rappaport of Fueled.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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