Mild Rant: I Don't Want To Be Your Business Partner

Last year, coinciding with The Big Pandewski, both my second-best friend and I happened to lose our jobs (completely different jobs.) I searched for a new job for awhile, but decided to get into consulting, and that’s worked out nicely.

To my admitted surprise, my friend - er, Martin, let’s say - hasn’t yet found a job. He and his wife are doing pretty well, always have, so they’re not in serious trouble or anything but he’s understandable getting angsty. Martin was in financial services all his career and was quite successful, but banks and whatnot are very conservative and they just aren’t hiring.

Martin is now considering buying a small business, and he’s trying to rope me into it. First he wanted to start a franchise of a local sandwich restaurant, and I have about as much interest in getting into the restaurant business as I do in having a horse kick me in the balls. Now he’s talking about buying a dry cleaners in a town 45 minutes away from me and wants to talk about me being a part in it.

I have my own little business going, and it’s going pretty well, but my limited spare cash has to go to saving for the future and a house and my interest in owning a small retail business in which I have no personal experience is exactly zero. So I have to get on the horn with Martin this weekend and just give him a flat no, something I am very, very bad at doing and find exceptionally unpleasant because I’m really bad at confrontation and saying no.

Anyway that’s my little complaint.

The fact that what Martin is asking for represents a major commitment, both in money and your time and effort, should actually make it much easier to say no. This isn’t some casual “can you do me a favour?” type of thing. Seems to me you described your reason for not being interested in this partnership very well, and I would just literally tell him exactly what you said here. In fact, I would think that since he must know your situation and that your consulting business is working out well, that his badgering you with these proposals is verging on being a little obnoxious.

I’m not very good at saying “no” to friends, either, but I’ve done so over matters far more trivial than this one, and it didn’t affect our friendship. Life’s too short to put up with bullshit.

Have you seen the Coen Brother’s movie The Man Who Wasn’t There? Great movie. The titular character Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is a barber. Someone (Jon Polito) is enthralled by the new idea of dry cleaning and tries to get Ed to become his partner.

Ed says,

That I wasn’t the kind of guy to kill a guy, that I was the barber, for Christ’s sake. I was just like them, an ordinary man. Guilty of living in a world that had no place for me, yeah. Guilty of wanting to be a dry cleaner, sure. But not of murder.

My daughter’s the assistant manager at a chain restaurant. She sometimes gets people asking her why doesn’t she get her own place or advice about starting one themselves. Her answers are always “are you crazy!” and “don’t!” So many people don’t realize how complicated running a restaurant or retail business is and how much of your time it eats up. And you’re not even guaranteed to make a living wage off it.

It sounds to me like Martin is starting to panic and is at the “I need to find something! anything!” point. Understandable but good for you for knowing your own limitations.

1.I have no knowledge about running a dry cleaning business
2. I have no desire to run a dry cleaning business
3. I don’t have money to invest in your dry cleaning business
4. I have my own business now and don’t want to get involved in another business
repeat 1-4 as needed

since this is the Pit: F**k off dude! Leave me out of your craziness!

Years ago a friend from my days in radio (who at the time was working as a DJ) started floating hints about my investing in a small market radio station with him.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger or more expensive headache. Mercifully, that proposition died an early death.

I’m where I am today, doing what I’m doing, because a guy I knew wanted me to be his partner in a business. I said no, but he was one hell of a salesman. We got things up and running and in less than a year he moved on. Haven’t seen or heard from him in decades.

I’ll speak as one who gave in to the temptation of starting a business with a friend: You’ll be lucky if you stay friends after you do. So don’t.

My friend is in fact my closest friend, and we preserved our friendship. But it was touch-and-go there for awhile.

After we dissolved our formal partnership, another company approached me to see if I was interested to go solo and have them manufacture my product. There was interest, but I turned it down, for the sake of the friendship. No regrets.

I think if you explain your reasons to him as you have done for us here, he’ll understand. As @wolfpup points out, this is much more than a, “say, do me a favor, willya?” request.

Good luck.

I’ve been in your position, and you HAVE to say “I will never want to invest in a small business. Don’t take this personally, if I did, you’d be an awesome partner. But I will never want to take those kinds of risks.”

(You’ve got to use the word NEVER. If you try to soften the blow, and sound only 99% certain, he might think “Ok, there’s a 1% chance, and I’m going to find that 1% opportunity so he’ll come on board next time!”)

Anecdote:

I met with one of my best friends at a restaurant, heard his plan, it sounded exciting, and he even said I could start out “freelance” without any $$ investment.

I came home all excited, was describing it to my wife, and her reply was “If you’re not going to do this, you should tell him right away.” “What?!? I’m excited, he’s excited, it’s a solid plan, why do you say that?”

“I know you, and I can read you. Go ahead, but at some point you’re going to realize this isn’t you, and it’d be better to do that now.”

I thought about it overnight and backed out via email (I’m so brave… but I didn’t want him to talk me into ‘Just try it for a month’, if I did it in person).

So say no via email if you’ll have trouble in person. That way you can meet in person later, but you’ll have that solid “NO” underpinning the conversation.

After my email (he texted back a good “I understand. We’re still friends” reply), we got together. And I gave him some advice on the project, but just as a friend who was not going to be involved.

TL:DR = “No. Never.”

According to Inc Magazine, 33% of new businesses fail their first six months; 75% fail within the first three years and 50% within their first two years of operation.

The main reasons are:

  • lack of a good business plan
  • Lack of goals and objectives
  • Failure to measure goals
  • Failing to track finances
  • Poor marketing plan
  • Underestimating the competition
  • Lack of funds

Oh man, I really hope he doesn’t buy a restaurant franchise. I worked in restaurants for a decade and thought about going out on my own, but I researched it and decided it was a terrible idea. Not only do restaurants have high failure rates compared to other businesses, but franchises, which might seem safer, were actually more likely to fail. If someone understands the risks and sacrifice involved, but is still really passionate about the idea, I wish them all the best. But someone just looking for a job should keep looking.

I could see running something like the overnight jazz radio station that Adrienne Barbeau had in the original The Fog … IF I was independently wealthy, and didn’t need it for an income, because with one employee, unsalaried, the advertising if any would probably just pay for the FCC licensing and maybe electricity, perhaps maintenance and the ASCAP fees.

Though I do admit, it would be sort of fun, if I had the record collection to back it up. [I would probably rip them all to a computer, and set it to shuffle all night =) ]

The risks are, believe me, ones I’m very aware of. My business is just a consultancy - there is no rent, no inventory, no employees except myself - and that’s hard enough. Most of my customers are small to medium enterprises and it’s just appallingly complex to run them.

I’m not sure Martin realizes that.

I’d be sure to work that into your “No, no, never, never, uh, uh, uh” reply.

This first sentence is really all you need to say.

Here, copy ‘n’ paste that into your email.

(Or read it over the phone? : )

Two comments:

  1. for inspiration – NSFW (1 minute)
  1. Old joke:

Q: How do you make a small fortune in the restaurant business ?

A: Start with a large fortune.

This Martin being so insistent on having you be his partner, just screams “I want you to do all the gritty and tedious day-to-day work, while I chillax and reap the profits”.

Several years back a wannabe entrepreneur (wantrepreneur?) sweet-talked my college professor into being a partner at his startup, with my professor and I being the developers. It soon became clear that this guy brought no value to the table, doing little else than watching us as we coded and exclaiming “wow, good job!” and “that is so cool!” at regular intervals. He practically did no market research, no meeting with potential clients, nada, leaving those burdens to us.

Fortunately, I caught onto his shtick quickly and bailed as soon as I landed a new job at a legit company.

Seconding this. Just like how some couples only break up after they move in together and discover their partner’s under-the-surface failings, the tensions of running a business and the myriad of unforeseen problems that emerge will only serve to create fissures in your friendship that eventually widen and pop it like a balloon. If the friendship with Martin is something you truly value, then follow Aspenglow’s advice.

This too. Not too long ago, I read an article about not only how much it sucked running a restaurant, but also how even when things are going well, one small slip-up will bring everything crashing down. Dunno if it’ll sway Martin’s mind if you link him to this article, but it’s worth a try. (Bonus points: the restaurant in the article is in Toronto, where I believe RickJay said he lives in).

And how many would-be restarauteurs take a look at how many go bust within a short time, or at best barely hang on? It is a very risky business, literally.

How to say no? Just say that you have no capital or time to invest in another business, and in any case you have absolutely no experience in the field.

That is very dangerous, he could make expensive mistakes out of desperation. I know more than I want about getting out of desperate financial situations, but the key thing is to stick to what you know.

A good friend of mine partnered with three friends to purchase a building and remodel it, opening a tiny, little, upscale bistro just days before the pandemic kicked in.

Their place became the antithesis of what you’d think would survive the first year. It was tough. Take-out craft cocktails aren’t good. State guidelines had them serving just a few tables, so they were bleeding cash.

The four guys went all in, taking out personal loans and getting second or third jobs. But they made it (I think). We ate/drank there on Wednesday (their slow day, they’re closed Monday and Tuesday) and they were packed. Reservations only. We had a few small plates and some fancy cocktails, spending over $100 with tip, high for the area.