Why starting a company is like dating.

two people’s hands holding coffee cups with their hands touching, as if on a date.
Photo by Jonathan J. Castellon on Unsplash

As the mother of a teenage boy who is starting to express an interest in girls. And as the co-founder of a startup who is forming business partnerships.

What have I learned?

There is little difference. At least when it comes to dating.

I won’t go into any details about my teen’s life. But, flashbacks to my own young adult years have taught me that little has changed. Whether dating or pursuing business partnerships.

This is how prospective business partnerships work.

First, the investigation process.

You notice a prospective business partner.

You see common attributes between their organization and yours. You like what they do. You think both your organizations could work well together.

You get a second opinion. You talk to your others in your company, colleagues you know or friends you trust.

If it’s a go ahead from your perspective and theirs, you start the courting process.

You make the “ask.”

If you’re the one pursuing, you’ll need to make the first move — via phone or email that is. The partner might respond and accept the invitation to meet or talk.

If they do, consider this the first date.

But, don’t assume that just because they responded, they want to date you.

They are merely seeing if they even like you. They might also view your conversation as a source of business intelligence and a way to learn more about the market, versus just your company.

Then the first meeting.

It’s typically cordial.

The prospective partner, customer or investor will be nice and listen. In fact, few people will tell you flat out that you have a bad idea, your company will never succeed or that you are a poor partner match.

Nor will they ever say you’re ugly.

But, like the conclusion of some first dates, you are not entirely certain what will happen next.

Then you wait. And you research.

You put on your game face and hope to keep the relationship simmering. You send a thank you note. You tell them you enjoyed meeting them. They might acknowledge your message, but will commit to nothing else.

In the meantime, both sides conduct more due diligence. The prospective partner will ask about you with their own teams or colleagues. You’ll update the people you know. In fact, you might have one of your close contacts approach the partner — allegedly unbeknownst to you — to get any feedback.
You’ll make an assessment, whether grounded in fact or based on a hunch, to keep pursuing the partner.

Then, you ask again.

When you seek a follow up meeting, it’s much like asking for the second date.

If the response is swift, that’s good. If you have to persistently follow up or the potential partner is always “busy,” beware. Instead of telling you they’re not interested, they might be dragging you on.

Teens are a master of that, too.

Or in defense of the potential partner, they might not know what they want to do.

And you might get rejected …

Just like teens who often lack the ability to communicate well or promptly, know that potential partners, customers or investors are no different. I have seen this scenario play out dozens of times.

They will open your email, but not respond. They’ll let your phone calls go to voicemail. They won’t answer text messages.

If this happens repeatedly, this is their way of saying no.

While a quick “no” from a partner feels rash and without legitimate reason,
a slow “no” is the kiss of death.

Avoid a slow no at all costs.

… Or you’ll keep wishing and waiting.

Otherwise, you will be waiting, wondering, handwringing, and wasting time.

You’ll be the desperate teen who wants to make the relationship work.

Instead? Date carefully at first. Don’t be aggressive. Don’t push too hard. Don’t be desperate.

Earn your partners’ trust. Take your time.

Find ways to validate the relationship through trusted third parties.

Even if they don’t want to partner with you now, it doesn’t mean they’ve said never. For a host of reasons, the timing might not be right, for them or you.

But nevertheless, you’ll keep going.

Keep doing good work. Keep advancing your strategy.

After all, you might be more attractive to them when you are more mature.

The upside about those young adult years of dating is that those decades-old experiences teach you a few things. Sure, you were disappointed. Perhaps your ego was crushed, or even shattered.

But, you survived. You moved on. You eventually thrived.

Remember what our mothers used to tell us? Don’t take it personally and eventually everything works out for the better.

It’s certainly what I tell my son now. And what I remind myself at work.




Entrepreneur || Fortune 500 Executive

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Linda Thrasher

Linda Thrasher

Entrepreneur || Fortune 500 Executive

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