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Show Highlights

It’s often said that having business partners is a lot like having a marriage, and just like a successful marriage, having a successful relationship with your business partner (or partners, we’re not here to judge) requires effective communication, patience, and compromise.

Float On has 5 owners, and they haven’t always agreed on the best course of action. So naturally disagreements happen, but how you handle them is the worthier part. Graham and Ashkahn share their experiences and what’s helped make Float On a success 7 years and counting.

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Transcription of this episode… (in case you prefer reading)

Graham: Alright, hey everyone, this is Graham.

Ashkahn: And this is Ashkahn.

Graham: And today’s question is, “Hello lovely humans!”

Ashkahn: Nice.

Graham: Hello right back to you.

Ashkahn: Yeah, hey.

Graham: “My question is, how do you handle business partner disputes? If you guys disagree on a direction for Float On, does one partner have decision authority? Or do you have another process for reaching a decision? Or do you always just agree with each other?”

Ashkahn: What do you think there?

Graham: What do you think?

Ashkahn: I think that the correct answer is-

Graham: No, I don’t think so. It’s probably totally wrong, yeah, I completely disagree with that.

Ashkahn: Alright, so what do you do when you have a really annoying business partner who has real bad ideas all the time?

Graham: I don’t think that’s what the question was.

Ashkahn: Its an interesting question. ‘Cause having a business partner, people often relate it to being married, except it’s even harder to get out of a business partnership than it is to get out of a marriage.

Graham: And we have many business partners at Float On, too, so it’s kind of like a five way marriage.

Ashkahn: A polygamous sort of.

Graham: Yeah.

Ashkahn: And, as you know, running a business there are a lot of decisions that come up all the time, and they’re often decisions that revolve around gut feelings and instincts. You don’t always have nice data to follow or things like that. At certain points you just have to make judgment calls, and sometimes you have different judgment than other people.

Graham: Yeah.

Ashkahn: So what do you do?

Graham: I think that was the question, right?

Ashkahn: This is a weird one for us ’cause I feel like what goes a long way towards this is just having found the right business partners to begin with. There’s a certain amount of generally being on the same page with someone, or kind of having the same perspective, or having it so that every time something comes up you don’t have radically different views on the situation than the other person. I feel like that’s a much more difficult scenario than when most of the time you agree and it’s just these kind of once in a while situations where you have different opinions from one another.

Graham: Yeah. I mean kind of like a marriage where you do have things come up that you need to resolve, and talk through, and work around. And then a marriage where that’s every single day you’re just at each other, and bickering, and quarreling. So certainly just the volume and that kind of dynamic is determined well before the problems arise. So if you’re constantly arguing with your business partners, then more drastic solutions might be in play.

Ashkahn: Yeah, like uh oh. That’s probably not a great scenario. So we’ll assume that that’s not the case. You found a good business partner, you’re happy working together, things, most of the time, are pretty similar in your perspectives and point of view.

Graham: And good work, too, because we certainly haven’t gotten there yet.

Ashkahn: Yeah. I’m jealous. I’m jealous. And what do you do in the few times that disputes do come up?

Graham: So it depends a little bit. So we obviously do a bunch of different things, too, between our shop, and Float Tank Solutions, and the conference, and our other projects like the Helm. So taking it back, I guess, back to when we were all kind of running the shop and working there and being active owners of the shop, I feel like we kind of just did a conversation of attrition lots of times to get past disagreements. We’d sort of talk through them and worked things out, and really whoever felt passionately enough to keep the conversation going and really pushing their side, eventually I think it kind of reaches this point where we’re like, “Okay, well, let’s go with that and try it out, and see what happens.” As opposed to kind of hitting these stalemates where two people just absolutely want their own way and there is no middle ground or anything like that.

Ashkahn: Yeah. It’s often that someone feels a lot more strongly about their opinion than other people do, and in those cases we’re just like, “Okay, this clearly seems like you are really intent on doing it this way, so let’s go with that.”

Graham: Yeah. And it depends on the nature of the decisions, too, right? There’s a decision, for instance, should we offer a discount to students? Or something like that. And that’s something where it’s like okay, there are decisions within that to offer, decide, I mean. How big is the discount? How long are you going to offer it for? Is this a permanent thing? Are you gonna put up signs around the shop and list it on the front page of your website? All these are decisions that need to get made, but it’s for something that you can always change relatively easily. If you launch a discount that’s too big and you’re like, “50% off for students!” And then you realize you just can’t handle that and you wanna bring it down to 25% off, all of that’s pretty manageable for changing.

If the decision that you’re disagreeing on is something about raising your prices or what to do for that, obviously doing a price raise is just this much more serious piece of work that you need to do with very lasting repercussions and redoing all of your signage, and all of your-

Ashkahn: And you can’t just undo it.

Graham: Online sites, and yeah, something that you can’t quite undo. So I feel like that war of attrition sort of tactic for resolution works really well for decisions that can be changed or taken back. In that case it is sort of like, “Well, okay, you feel really strongly about it, let’s go with it and see what happens.”

And then for more serious decisions, I feel like we kind of do a little bit of narrowing down. It’s a lot of getting together and talking, and going through the justifications behind what each of us thinks. Let’s say it’s a price raise and one person thinks we shouldn’t raise our prices and one person thinks it should go up $5, one person thinks they should go up $20.

Ashkahn: Well the interesting thing is I feel like what you just said, explaining the justification behind your decisions is, I think, a really useful one. Because often everybody agrees on the justification. It’s just the way of achieving that goal that sometimes gets disagreement. So usually our conversations go down to that level. When we’re like, “Well, I think this because this, this is the reason why I think that’s gonna have a certain impact, and this is the type of impact I want something to have.” And then when everyone is going towards that same goal, it helps people come up with other ways of meeting that goal that everyone feels good about. It kind of fuels the problem solving process, that it comes up with solutions that no one had to begin with but is something that everyone actually enjoys.

Graham: Yeah. I guess. And some general things too, just to keep in mind, I think part of the reason that we work well together as a team of owners when we hit problems is we kind of have a very similar stance of problem solving. In the sense of when something arises and you do need to make a decision, and you reach a disagreement, a good thing to do is kind of step back and just look at things rationally and see what’s going on there really.

So looking at the upsides, if things go right with your plan, looking at the downsides, if things go wrong with your plan, trying to think through any weird things that might happen that you haven’t thought of so far, like a price raise has all sorts of potentially unintended consequences, from regular customers spending less money to actually boosting up your memberships, things like that.

So really just taking the time to think through the logical conclusions of what you’re doing and also put yourself outside of your own little bubble that you’re in with your thoughts, too. Observe it from a more objective kind of stance, where what you expect to happen just might not happen at all. And then what are some possibilities? And that’s a good way to look through some of these, and yeah. I just highly recommend actually even looking into maybe doing a tiny bit of research on problem solving in general and discussion-based communication.

Ashkahn: Yeah. And giving things some time to settle in I think helps a lot, too. We often do that. When we have a big decision to make, we’ll have a conversation, we’ll talk about a bunch of stuff, and then we’ll just stop. We won’t make a decision right then because-

Graham: Come back to it in another couple years, what’s the rush?

Ashkahn: Yeah, just take it easy. Because it’s hard, when you’re talking about some really big things, and they’re complicated, and it’s hard to think about all the repercussions, and it’s hard to wrap your mind around a crazy idea someone has all of a sudden. It was just so different from what you were thinking that it sounds crazy to you at first, but when you just wait, if you just let those things simmer and kind of process in the background and you come back to that conversation later, it often makes you realize that you actually feel okay with something that sounded crazy to you to begin with, or actually now that you’ve thought about it you think that’s a really bad idea ’cause you’ve realized all these potential downfalls that could happen. That kind of simmering process I think helps our brains just deal with big, complicated questions.

Graham: And something else came to mind, too, which is a little bit more how we do things now than how we did them in the past, too, when we’re all kind of equally and actively engaged in whatever project we’re working on, and even if you’re the only owner of your shop and you’re not even in a debate with another person, but just kind of internally trying to decide things, I still recommend this, which is check in with your staff. Check in with other people who are working at your center. Even your customers, sometimes, can help you make these decisions.

You don’t have to go into a void and come up with whatever it is that your plan is and then implement your plan also in a void, and then finally release it to your staff, or to your customers, or whoever it’s gonna impact. You can kind of come up with what you think would be a good option, and then ask the people who are going to be impacted by it. If your decision does impact your staff, then bring them in on the decision and see what they think about things and if they have any ideas.

Same for customers. If you’re planning a price raise, if you’re planning something drastic, maybe before you actually implement it just call in some of your most regular customers and some of your members and chat with them about what you’re thinking and why, and get some feedback from them, too. So your decision can be informed by more than just owner discussions.

Ashkahn: And especially with things with your employees, even if you’re pretty confident in your idea or something, having people give feedback and weigh in, it makes things seem a lot less like there’s just rules coming down from up high, and when you put stuff in place like that and no one has had any say, it’s an easy place for people to get upset and not wanna do things. But even if the end result is the exact same thing, but people have had some chance to have input. It makes people all kind of feel like they’re on the same page, or working together to create a new thing, or goal, or rule, or whatever you’re doing. So usually just that feedback process is kind of nice for other reasons than just problem solving.

Graham: Yeah. Unilateral, in private decision making really makes people feel disenfranchised. It’s amazing how much just including someone on the process of making decisions make them feel like they have this weight in the process. Again, even if the outcome is exactly the same.

Ashkahn: And same for you and your business partners. There’s something that’s just nice about being able to voice your thoughts. And even if the end result is they had no impact, and everyone’s still going with the plan that took your thoughts and they in no way influence the outcome, because you got a chance to talk, and everyone talked about it, and worked it through, it makes you feel a lot more on board when the solution comes up. It doesn’t feel like okay, these people were just not even listening. It’s like okay, everyone did listen to me, we discussed things, and this other way still seems like the best direction to go. At least to a lot less, I don’t know, holding onto kind of those things after the decision is made makes everyone feel like the decision is made, we’re done with the decision making process now, and I’m not gonna constantly be in my head thinking, oh, why didn’t they do the thing I said?

Graham: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. And of course, again, the people who your decisions are gonna be influencing the most, that’s especially important. Go down to the level where the decisions are actually going to have an impact and make sure that you get buy-in there. And maybe that’s just with other owners, maybe that’s with your staff, maybe that is your customers, but yeah. Anyway, that’s a good way to go.

Ashkahn: And it’s useful, too, to break down your problems into chunks, I think. It’s just difficult to take on a big challenging question that has a lot of different variables to it, but kind of taking some time to think about the individual chunks of what you’re talking about. If it is a price raise, what your memberships are gonna be and how it affects your current members. And kind of looking through each one of those piece by piece often will help you come up with a better answer to the whole, and it just makes the whole thing a lot more approachable.

Graham: Yeah. And it’s amazing how when you do that with a collaborative force of other people around working on the same thing, your conclusions often end up pretty similar. I think people end up in bigger disagreements in their own little silo, or by themselves, they’re coming up with some kind of solution to a problem without discussing it actively. Even internally I really tried to prevent from forming my own solutions too concretely before we enter into discussions. I just learn so much from thinking of it through other people’s viewpoint and through breaking down those problems into tiny little compartments almost. And I’m just not gonna do as good a job thinking through everything that could happen with each one of those compartments as if we had a large group around. And, again, a group of our manager, actual owners, employees, a diverse group who is looking at it from different perspectives can also just help with that breakdown and make sure that you’re not letting anything slip through the cracks.

Ashkahn: Yeah. And all these things, again, like problem solving advice, it really helps. When you’re going through and the question or the issue is what you’re both on a team trying to solve leads to a lot less of this kind of dispute mentality where it’s one person against another, one person’s ideology against another person’s.

Graham: Yeah. I guess especially being in company with five owners, it really teaches you humility for your own ideas. You have to be willing to let them go, or change, as you bring it to the group. You can’t just have an idea, and that’s it, and that’s the way it’s going to be, and there is no better idea. Almost like the more attached you get to your own idea of genius, I think that can be a real problem. That goes beyond business advice, that’s just you need to let your ideas morph and change, and not just be so clinging to them.

Ashkahn: I mean this is hopefully the reason you have a business partner, right? If you hate the fact that you ever have to compromise on your own ideas, you made a mistake bringing on a business partner.

Graham: I think you did a bad thing.

Ashkahn: So yeah, stuff like that is really useful. And technically you can vote based on your percentage ownership. That’s the most end of the line, I think, sort of solution, is at some point you could take a vote based off of whatever’s in your operating agreement in voting. But my hope is to never have things come to that. We’ve never actually had to do that. We’ve never had to make a business decision by voting based off the weight of our equity in the company or anything like that, but there are businesses that do that, and when they make big decisions, that’s what they do.

Graham: And so one last thing that I had that had occurred to me, too, is one thing I like doing now that we’re a little more out of the shop and that we have it managed by employees and have Marshall, our shop manager, in there kind of heading things up, is coming to some decisions involving him a lot in those conversations. And ultimately if there’s still something to be decided, like we just did this for setting a price for a sale that we were planning on running and kind of debating back and forth which prices we wanted and stuff like that, and we kind of came down to two prices, which were two dollars different, so pretty close, and then we’re just like, “Hey, you know what? These are kind of equal in our minds, why don’t you decide? Or why doesn’t the shop decide what you want between here?” So a very active conversation to get everyone on the same page, and then actually leaving it up to our shop manager to make the final call because he’s the one who’s most closely tied into shop operations right now. And I think people appreciate that kind of, again, even if it’s like a two dollar difference, which isn’t the biggest decision you can make in the world, it’s still giving people a little more autonomy, and I think they do appreciate that.

Ashkahn: Yeah. And if push comes to shove, sometimes I just tell Graham that we’re going with his idea and then secretly enact my own. And then he’s happy, we’re happy, and everybody’s good. So you can do that, too, if you want.

Graham: I don’t recommend it, but I would never give that advice. Alright.

Ashkahn: Yeah.

Graham: So.

Ashkahn: So.

Graham: Good luck. Yeah, I don’t know what you had specifically in mind when you sent us this.

Ashkahn: Group hugs help.

Graham: Yeah, hope it all works out.

Ashkahn: Yeah.

Graham: Name calling is a very productive means of communication sometimes, if you use it right.

Ashkahn: Yeah, wedgies.

Graham: Wet willy.

Ashkahn: Alright. If you guys have other questions out there you can go over to floattanksolutions.com/podcast.

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