Finding your Anti-Self: Why finding the "wrong" business partner is the right formula for success.

By Charlie Van Vechten

Do you remember the TV show “The Odd Couple”? Well, in a nutshell, that is me and my business partner. In a lot of ways, we are polar opposites. He says I’m anal and meticulous, I say he’s messy and impulsive. But you know what… It works. It’s just the sort of madness that has made our company surprisingly successful… even in this tough economy.

You see, we are each other’s “anti-selves.” Although we both envisioned starting a client-centered design firm that produces great results, that’s where most of our similarities end. We don’t walk, talk, or approach our business the same way; to look at us, you’d think we wouldn’t even be able to agree on what to have for lunch. Knowing how oil and water mix, it would be easy to think Jacob Tyler Creative Group should be a disaster. But ours runs like a well-oiled machine.

charlie and les - anti partners
To see why, you just have to understand that we don’t work well despite our differences but because of them. It might be a stretch to say we complete each other… but we sure do complement our respective talents. Les likes to meet with prospective clients and draw in new business, all at a thousand miles a minute; I tend to be reserved and collected, and work like a dog to keep the agency running smoothly and make sure everyone is happy along the way. Spreadsheets and numbers speak to me, where as Les loves the thrill of the chase. One of us works calmly, weighs decisions, and is patient, the other gets wildly excited, goes with his gut, and wants it “now”.

Somewhere in that mixture, we’re doing better work than ever. Separately, we ran businesses that were doing alright. Together, our creativity and client list are going through the roof. Plus, both of us are completely reinvigorated… It’s like we are constantly challenging each other and in the end… We win, and so do our clients. Just when they think we’re ready to fight like cats and dogs, we do – but in a creative, constructive way. By motivating, challenging, and occasionally, even encouraging one another, we become far more valuable to our clients and employees than we ever were on our own.

Surprisingly, we end up agreeing on almost everything.

Is it possible your company would be better run as a partnership, and with someone who sees the world a bit differently than you do? We would like to offer a handful of tips for finding the anti-self partner that takes your business to the next level:

Find your anti-self. This is the simplest step, and yet it’s the hardest. That’s because we tend to surround ourselves with men and women who look, think, and act like us most of the time – from our friends to our employees. Think outside the box a bit, though, and you might remember a friendly face from an association conference… or even a competitor who does great work.

Think peanut butter and chocolate, not lemon juice and ice cream. Of course, you can take the whole idea of contrasting personalities too far. It doesn’t make sense to join forces with someone you don’t respect, or even outright resent. One of the interesting things about our partnership is that we almost always reach the same decision – even if we have to take drastically different paths to get to that point. What we have learned to take from that is that, deep down, both of us value and respect the same things and especially each other.

Divide and conquer… It’s funny how many creative shops we see that are run by two print designers, or a pair of internet marketing types. It’s probably that way in most businesses and most industries; it only makes sense that a pair of similar professionals will “naturally” come together … but this is one natural tendency you’ll want to avoid. That’s because another word to describe the situation would be redundant. Two or more people with the same skills and the same methodology will end up duplicating work, or worse, stepping on each other’s toes.

By choosing to partner with someone who brought a different skill set to the table – Les had a strong background in web work, while most of my business had been built on print design – each of us gained something. That leads to better work and a broader perspective, but it also helps smooth out differences in opinion. Since one of us is an authority in a different area, we’re forced to rely on each other’s best judgments when making tough calls.

Some sharing is good. Jacob Tyler is a partnership in every sense of the word. While we do divide up specific tasks, the overall strategic vision is formed together, as are questions revolving around employment, major investments, changes in client relationships, and so on.

Going into business with your anti-partner might seem like a crazy thing to do; it certainly did to us – right up until we found out how well it worked. If you think your company could use another perspective, why not brainstorm and try to find another personality who could be the best partner you never knew you were looking for?