In business there are very few true partnerships

When founders are starting out, partnership inquiries sound really exciting. In theory, a successful partnership with a larger company could help your company get more customers. What you realize, though, is that partnerships are rarely a real thing. When you work with another company, either they are your customer or you are their customer. Anything other than that usually just eats up time and energy.

—From Brad Flora’s “I Sold My Startup for $25.5 Million: Here’s how I did it,” which is interesting throughout despite the sensationalist title.

At Seliger + Associates we’ve learned that anyone who talks about partnerships is wasting our time (and theirs). People who need a good or service and can pay for the good or service are usually prepared to move quickly. They don’t need much if any convincing from third parties. And they don’t need an intermediary between them and the good or service provider.

Think of it this way: if your friend knows you love Thai food and tells you that there’s a great Thai restaurant nearby, you’re not going to wait for your friend to take you there. You’re just going to go. By the same token, when existing clients make referrals, they often don’t even tell us. They just do it. The referral isn’t hard and it isn’t complex and it usually involves very little negotiation.

Being in business taught me that there are two factors that matter more than anything else: who is paying me money and who I am paying money to. “Partnerships” or “alliances” that don’t involve contracts and money and services or goods don’t mean anything.

The Wonderful Past

I’ve mentioned Grant Writing Confidential several times recently and will do so once more again, this time because I wrote a post that my father and co-writer there, Isaac Seliger, suggested would be well-suited here as well. He saw the many literary references in The Wonderful Past—to The Name of the Rose, My Name is Red, Plato, and traditional Romance. To be sure, the post focuses on grant writing, but it also illustrates a tendency in literature and culture: idealizing the past or recalling a golden time that may or may not have ever been. Novels like The Name of the Rose wink at this, especially because Adso of Melk lived in 1321 and “wrote” from the perspective of sometime around 1380 – 1400, and the eras he recalled appear ridiculous to modern readers and are distorted by the limits of knowledge then. Nonetheless, this theme is developed seriously in many novels, it’s one that The Lord of the Rings deals with explicitly: the passing of the Elves and their works of great beauty at the end of the Third Age are a time of necessary sorrow. There are many references to fading, passing, and parting, as much of what was fair is subject to one of those fates, but the strength of The Lord of the Rings comes from its mingled sense of hopefulness, necessity, and remembrance, which keep it from becoming morose or sentimental. Its tone is tempered and balanced, with hope present even as the past fades.

Perhaps the most obvious example of an entire book devoted to idealizing the past, especially in comparison to a lessened future, is John Banville in The Sea. I began my commentary on it by noting: “It is not clear what we should take from The Sea.” Almost a year later I’m still not sure what we should take, but its sense of wistfulness over the past is the primary feeling I’ve taken away. As such, I have no good explanation about it, though for a novel that I didn’t love it is often in my thoughts, and I perceive similar themes to lesser or, rarely, greater degrees in so many novels. Yet any explanation I give for it will, I feel, be uncertain or overly speculative at best, but such thoughts about the past remain, and remain noticeable.

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