Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Working with a Partner, with Dr. Noam Wasserman, Author of The Founder’s Dilemmas

My Guest

My guest today is Noam Wasserman, recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts in how to form and maintain high performing partnerships in entrepreneurial contexts.

Noam is currently the Dean of the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University in New York City. Prior to this, Noam was a professor at Harvard Business School for 13 years, where his research focused on founders’ early decisions that can make or break startups and their teams. The course that he developed and taught, Founder’s Dilemmas, won him the HBS Faculty Teaching Award and the Academy of Management’s 2010 Innovation in Pedagogy Award. In 2011, the course was named one of the top entrepreneurship courses in the United States by Inc. magazine.

In 2012, Noam published his now famous book, The Founder’s Dilemmas, that became an Amazon #1 bestseller. It won the Academy of Management’s Impact on Practice Award in 2014, and is still on Amazon’s bestseller lists, several years after its initial publication. In 2018, he published another book, Life Is a Startup, which also became a #1 Amazon bestseller in Entrepreneurship and won a Gold Medal from the Axiom Business Book Awards.

Dr. Wasserman received his MBA and PhD from Harvard Business School, and his BSE and BS from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Questions Asked


  • What percentage of business failures are attributable to interpersonal issues at the top of the company?
  • if partnership issues account for such a large percentage of business failures, why dont’ entrepreneurs and investors spend more time doing diligence on the potential health of the partnership?
  • Your data suggests that partnerships tend to have more successful outcomes than do solo entrepreneurs. Yet your whole book is about the countless ways that partnerships can fail or stumble. How do we reconcile those two points of view?

Finding Your Partner

  • Among partners who a) know each other socially, b) people who have worked together in the past, and/or c) complete strangers, which partnership “recipe” has proven to be most and least effective, and why?
  • Many entrepreneurs who choose to work on their own try to build out “proxies” for a partner (bring on a board, join a CEO peer group, etc.). Do these “partner proxies” tend to be effective? Why or why not?
  • What are the 2-3 most important or difficult conversations for prospective partners to have with each other before formally making the decision to partner?

Before Taking the Entrepreneurial Plunge

  • In the past you’ve said that there are many steps that one should take before becoming an entrepreneur. However, in another way, there are no real ways to prepare for being an entrepreneur or CEO. How might your reconcile these two ideas?
  • Talk to us about the role that you think passion ought to play as one contemplates taking the entrepreneurial plunge. How important is it that the leader of a company is deeply passionate about the product or the service that they’re selling?
  • What type of passion is important? Passion about the product or service you’re selling? Passion about the entrepreneurial journey? Passion about independence and autonomy? Which types of passion matter, and which don’t?
  • If you were in your 20s or 30s debating whether or not to become an entrepreneur, what frameworks might you use to think this question through? What questions would you ask yourself, and what personal assumptions would you scrutinize?

In the CEO Seat

  • Many CEOs struggle with the extent to which they should form more personal relationships with their direct reports. What does your research suggest with respect to how CEOs should think about this question?
  • What role should persistence play in any entrepreneurial pursuit? Should entrepreneurs persist at substantially any cost, or should they be wise enough to know when they’d be better off doing something else entirely?
  • How, if at all, can an entrepreneur be objective about his or her circumstances with respect to the question of whether or not to persist?

Concluding Questions

  • Of the many concepts and frameworks within your books, what are the 1-3 that are most applicable in helping entrepreneurs improve their personal relationships?
  • If you’re an investor meeting a pair of partners for the first time, what questions are you asking them? What are you looking for to help you understand whether or not this is a type of partnership that has a high likelihood of success?

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