educational

A Primer on Partnerships: 1

Lisa Briggs
Chemistry. It is either the key to success or the critical element that throws caution to the wind in a relationship. When addressing a business pairing, it can be defined more in terms of cohesiveness and corporate compatibility than just simple basic animal attraction.

How does one strike a successful chord when choosing a business partner? What's the secret? And once joined, how does the pairing get through all the hiccups of not only building a company together but also sticking it out for the long haul?

In response to these questions, a number of the most successful professional partnerships in the industry weighed in on their winning strategies. While certain aspects of their partnerships may differ, the one constant is that they've all built their organizations on a foundation of trust and communication.

Boasting the largest high-definition library available and status as a leader in adult filmmaking and interactive formats is Digital Playground. Under the guidance of company founder Joone and President Samantha Lewis, Digital Playground has earned an impressive 79 awards for its efforts and contributions, including three awards for Best Company Image, Best DVD Production Company, Best DVD Studio, two awards for Best Film/Video Company and the 2005 AVN Award for Best High Definition Production.

Dynamic Duo
Lewis is one of a small group of women who have built a successful company in a predominantly male-run business. Her equally acclaimed partner Joone is responsible for the vision and technology that keeps Digital Playground ahead of the curve. But what makes this unusual duo click is dynamics.

The two met in 1993 through a mutual friend. Lewis was selling commercial real estate at the time in the same building that housed Digital Playground. The two became fast friends, and Lewis opted to extend her selling skills to Digital Playground. In 1997, she bought out Joone's then-business partner. The two became focused on taking the company to a new level — together.

"When you have a partner who's not doing much of anything, you end up questioning whether you should go forward," Joone says. "My old partner wasn't involved. That wasn't the case with Samantha. A successful partnership is both sides giving 100 percent. When you have only one person carrying the partnership, it's doomed."

Lewis echoed that sentiment.

"Joone is the technologically savvy artist and visionary, while my background is selling, building relationships and personal interaction," Lewis says. "Even if your duties are different, it is very important that both of you work equally hard. We have a true love affair in that our partnership is based on passion. We truly love our company, and it is where we both want to be. I am a bit more conservative when taking chances on new things. Joone is not, and he often asks me to trust him. I do."

Lewis also admits she's pretty good at putting the shoe on the other foot when they experience a hiccup. For this dynamic duo, it's all about working through it.

"Sometimes we are an old married couple, rambling and yelling and going back and forth," Joone says. "The bottom line is we say whatever, we regroup and get back to business. The biggest benefit of our partnership is that we realize the vision and implement it, not just talk about it. We actually make it happen, and it's an amazing ride."

Both business partners agree that over the years they have learned a great deal from each other but that sometimes the intensity of the work environment can take a negative toll on personal relationships.

"You end up spending more time working together than enjoying personal relationships," Joone says. "The answer is to keep your significant other informed of your work and your business relationship."

In some ways, Joone equates the business partnership process with dating.

"You have to go out with someone for a long time, live with their habits, likes and dislikes and find their strengths," he says. "You have to go through good and bad times together and appreciate how you complement each other. Don't base your partnership on money. It won't work. Two partners have to have the same vision, the same level of talent and the same lack of ego."

What other advice do Joone and Lewis have for a successful pairing?

"So many partnerships don't work out because both people are not willing to give it their all," Joone says. "You need to keep focused. Look at your company as if it is your child, and don't let egos get in the way."

"Approach your partnership logically," she says. "Ask yourself why you need a partner. Realize that your partner has to be able to do things that you are not capable of doing. And don't look at it as short term. A successful partnership is long term and allows for growth. What you need now may not be what you'll need two years down the line. You must be able to push each other to grow productively."

Fostering Growth
Another equally notable partnership is the pairing of Oystein Wright and Garry of Mansion Productions, who provide best-of-breed tools necessary to secure sales via the Internet. The two partners' efforts have won international acclaim and awards, including back-to-back XBIZ Awards for their MPA3 software.

One unique element of this successful partnership is nationality. Both men are Norwegian, and that was significant in their coming together.

"I was the executive sales manager for Paycom, and one day, Garry came calling for information," Wright says. "Here was this Norwegian guy wanting me to set up an account, and for the first 20 minutes I spoke to him in English. Then I switched over to Norwegian, and it stopped him in his tracks. In Norway, the adult entertainment industry is much more conservatively approached. No one knew of Garry's business, so when a fellow Norwegian showed up and talked to him openly about his company, it threw him off a bit. That was the start of our friendship."

As president and founder of Mansion Productions, Garry was impressed with Wright, and a few years later asked him to come on board as a partner to help expand ideas through leveraging Wright's business community relationships. As chief executive officer of Mansion Productions, Wright has done just that. "I came from a dot-com start-up but had left that arena," Wright says. "When Garry offered a partnership, the timing was right. We came from the same culture and background. We share the same morals. We knew what the other was all about, and that is key to a successful partnership. It's all a matter of trust."

For Wright and Garry, the tough part of building their partnership was building a company with no venture capital. It took many months before either partner realized any profits. But it was worth it. Since 1997, these two driven executives have worked hard to position Mansion Productions as the premier software provider in the adult entertainment industry.

"The biggest challenge we faced was growing with no capital," Wright says. "We never gave up, and people started to really like our products and return again and again. We developed strong recurring clients, and word of mouth quickly spread throughout the industry. The biggest benefit to having a successful partnership is the sharing of ideas and making decisions without just jumping in. If I made all the decisions on my own, I probably would have fallen into more than a few traps. Having a partner makes all the difference. While in some ways it may be easier to do business alone, it is also more dangerous."

In part two, we'll continue our look at the dynamics of successful partnerships.

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