A Cord of Three Strands For Start-Ups

You know the old saying…that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Yet, a cord with only one strand has much less strength. In the sports world, we see this concept played out most clearly in tournaments or playoffs. During the regular season, a dominant athlete can carry the team on his or her shoulders to seemingly improbable heights. Yet, under the microscope of postseason competition, the stakes are higher, the other team has similar talent, and the group with the most balanced attack with strong chemistry usually wins. Think Michael Jordan early in his career versus mid-career. Or, Robert Griffin III more recently. There are many stories of similar outcomes.

In the world of entrepreneurship, the principle rings true as well. Rare is the company founder who reaches great success who hasn’t enjoyed some substantial help along the way. Sometimes, it can be a co-founder. At other times, key employees. Externally, the founder may rely on a mentor or some key strategic allies. Whatever the dynamic, it is important to recognize our need for objectivity, resources, and expertise that we personally lack. 

Steve Olsher, the author of Internet Prophets, writing for Under30 CEO, espouses the virtue of serving before being served, and explores joint ventures versus alliances as a way to build a company. In the article, “You Can’t Do it Alone,” Steve defines joint ventures as being a more short-term relationship established for mutual benefit. He compares this approach to  the real estate market where someone invests in a condominium development, expecting a return as soon as the unit is built and sold. Alliances, continuing the analogy, are more like apartment investing because the return is longer-term and the fundamental math lends itself to retirement of debt early and increasing profits later.

Olsher offers the following advice on how to build a strong alliance:

Developing and maintaining strong alliances requires understanding the art and science behind the magic.

The first step is to know yourself. Grant yourself time and permission to understand who you are. Devote focused, quiet time to identifying your WHAT—that is, the one thing you were born to do. In order to form powerful alliances, you must know who you are. The reason is simple: an alliance is predicated upon providing value to others. If you’re unclear about what you have to offer, providing meaningful value will be met with consistent incongruities. The successful know exactly who they are and how they can best serve the world.

Before seeking to form alliances, understand who are the most likely beneficiaries of your knowledge and identify partners who can provide access to those who fit your desired profile. Ideally, the more you choose to live like a sniper and takes aim for the center of the bull’s eye, the more success you’ll realize. The successful focus on forging alliances with perfect partners and bring tangible value to the relationship. Like marriage, creating long-term mutually beneficial alliances takes work—a lot of work. The time and effort required for this to happen represents the single biggest difference between a joint venture and an alliance.

The “fiber’ of the strong cord is recognizing that one does not have a corner on knowledge–that there are others who have just as much–if not more–knowledge and/or experience in other areas. Taking the time to truly understand those with whom you need to build a strategic relationship is the “yarn” that is woven into your approach to business, and hopefully, your company culture. If you can systematically seek to know what will make others successful and determine to play a role in their success, you add strength to  their efforts as well as your own. Strands, then, are the individual interactions that you have with these allies, mentors, etc. They are periods of time when a significant exchange of ideas, perhaps monies, occurs and the interaction reaffirms the value of the relationship. While it is more allegorical than empirical, I’d argue that three mutually beneficial “strands” of interaction are a minimum for long-term success. Don’t be in a hurry to get an immediate return, as would a condominium investor–think about who and what you need for the long-term!

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