Wednesday, May 9, 2012

When is the Best Not the Best?


One of the biggest traps for entrepreneurs is the temptation to choose a partner, an employee, a vendor, a consultant, a lawyer or any other service provider, simply because that person/company is supposed to be the “best” in their particular field.  If we at Think Big had a nickel for every person who came through the door touting their team as having the best web designer, the best software engineer or the best sales director, we’d have a pretty big jar of nickels.  And while excellence is an extremely important factor in choosing one of the above mentioned providers, the question is not whether that individual/company is the “BEST”, but rather whether they are the “BEST FOR YOU”.

My standard stump speech on entrepreneurship always includes a few minutes on the importance of learning from one’s mistakes.  Not a day goes by that I don’t counsel someone on  how each mistake can make you and your business stronger if you are willing to embrace it.  And yet, just because one says it over and over does not mean that we don’t sometimes ignore our own advice.

A couple of years ago, I  pursued a new venture that had significant geographic spread.  The venture required the involvement of individuals in New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Atlanta and Kansas City.  Even though I am an attorney by trade and have been involved in hundreds of millions of dollars of complex transactions, this particular deal was beyond my area of expertise.  Trying to prove that I belonged with the big boys in all of these cities, I retained the services of an attorney who had a reputation for being the “best” in the city in handling this specific type of transaction.  It didn’t matter that I had not worked with this attorney before.  I was convinced that he was the right person for the job because he was deemed the “best” by others.

I won’t bore you with all of the ugly details, but hiring this attorney was a huge mistake.  In the middle of our transaction, my attorney decided that one of our potential business partners had a better chance at landing the deal and he kicked me to the curb in order to switch his representation to that person.  To this day, I’m still shocked by the way things transpired.  I don’t know whether it was an ethics violation, and I’m not interested in spending any time to find out.  Instead, I used that error in judgement on my part as a learning experience going forward.

Since that day, I have never hired a service provider or taken on a partner based solely on competence.  I now look for someone I know or trust above all else.  Someone who I know has my best interest at heart and will look to protect me when things get difficult.  And I must say this philosophy has paid significant dividends.  Any endeavor worth pursuing has its ups and downs.  There are always going to be those critical moments in the life cycle of a business when the easy thing to do is just throw up your hands and give up.  At those critical moments, it is extremely important to have a support structure around you that assists you through the difficult time.  Those are the people who are the BEST, because they are the best for you at that point and time.

Don’t misunderstand.  I’m not suggesting that ability and expertise are not extremely important.  Every vendor, consultant, provider, and/or partner that you retain has to be capable of getting the job done.  However, there is almost always more than one person who is capable of providing excellent service.  In the past few years, I have been very lucky to find both tremendously talented people who are also exceptional friends: my partner at Think Big, Herb Sih, my partner at Connexsus, Rusty Rahm, my attorneys, financial advisors, and others.  I go to sleep every night knowing that each of them is an outstanding business operator and a great friend who I trust to support my business and life ventures.

The bottom line is this: In most instances, there is more than one person/company capable of providing excellence.  Your challenge is to find that person who is both proficient and aligned with your interests.  They may be aligned personally, financially or philosophically, but your business will operate much better if you can match up at least one.

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