How to Form a Healthy, Long-Term Business Partnership

Business partnerships

Jake Rohn and Steve Blakely have been business partners since 1999. That’s nearly 20 years of ups and downs in the often-shaky startup world. Together, they have led three different startups, with WorkN, an on-demand staffing solution for startups, as their most recent venture.

Rohn explains that their appreciation for each other’s strengths has been critical to the successful partnership. “He’s the tech and I’m the business,” he says.

“I’ve come to appreciate and know several layers deep on the tech side and I would say he’s grown similarly to know several layers deep on the business side,” says Rohn. “We’re two concentric circles with some overlap and that really helps because we can come at things very commonly. We’re both very passionate about the same things but yet we both bring our different viewpoints.”

Rohn shares more advice for entrepreneurs looking to develop and maintain a healthy partnership that will stand the trials and tribulations of startup life.


Time creates trust

While it is the obvious answer, Rohn and Blakely have been through a lot of battles together, seen the good and the bad, and that builds trust. “A lot of the discussions are not comfortable, but I think, at the end, we always know the best interests of each other and the company are aligned,” says Rohn.

It’s not a club

If you bring in a third partner, be willing to listen to their feedback and use their strengths. “We don’t just listen to each other. We’ll be debating a point and somebody will join his side that he’ll just agree with because it’s the right thing in his mind. The length of our partnership doesn’t create any difference in opinion that I might be wrong. That’s important because if we just fed off each other, it would get really boring and really closed circuit,” says Rohn.

Balanced expertise is essential

Find the ying to your yang, says Rohn. “Chemistry, chance, trust, shared vision, and complimentary skill sets, are all the key factors. If you’re a business person, you want to find that tech and the tech wants to find the business. Finding a business partner who you can trust deeply is a real challenge and vice versa.”

Pairs and trios are great partnerships

But four, not so much, says Rohn. “The reliance on each other’s expertise is vital to make any business work. No person can do this alone. I think two is a good number. Three is also, depending on the dynamics. One certainly doesn’t make sense to me and by the time you get to four, you’re a committee.”

Find a good problem to focus on — together

Once you form the partnership, find a problem to solve together before forming a startup. “A good partnership and a good company are all founded around solving a problem,” says Rohn. “It’s an age-old adage, but it’s so true. If you’re building something because you want to — you have an idea for a cool idea and you don’t know whether it’s really solving a problem — stop. Go find a problem that you’re solving and then build for it.” As partners, they happen to like really complex problems, says Rohn.


“Perseverance is paramount. It doesn’t get easier. The third time through is just as hard as the first time. Now, I don’t have to make the same mistakes I made the first time through, but I’m finding new mistakes to make.” A partner comes handy during those times — to complain and push each other, says Rohn.