At Lonzo Law, we are focused on being an advocate and resource to small business owners. We recently talked with Mark Lombardi from Lombardi XP about his preferred structure of business: partnership.
Oftentimes, business partnerships get a bad name when people hear about situations that have gone bad or turned ugly. However, Mark believes that a shared vision and collaboration create a stronger organization and individuals. Read on to learn more.
Lonzo Law: You have been a long-time client of Lonzo Law and we knew your experience would be a great resource for our readers. So just to start, can you give a little background of your company?
Mark Lombari: My name is Mark Lombardi and I own Lombardi XP. We are a consulting organization, and we work with a variety of different organizations and technology partners to accelerate the way people actually adopt new technology and expand their business ability to deliver meaningful value to the customers that they serve.
My preferred business model exists through partnerships though. There’s a variety of different tactics, entities and individuals used to grow, though I’ve really found my value and my niche in partnership and understanding the way in which we can create a mutual benefit and create a shared vision between organizations and individuals to actually see a path forward.
So partnership has been traditionally the way I’ve grown the organizations I’ve built. I did that with one of the web development companies I’ve built, with one of the consulting agencies I built, and then with a variety of different companies I’ve consulted for in terms of how they can actually create new partner models at their organization, or build bridges between their existing team members — encouraging partnership, encouraging collaboration to be able to see the results that they were aspiring towards.
LL: Did you originally start out solo? And then switch over to a business partnership model because you saw those benefits? Or how did you kind of realize the business partnership model is more for you?
ML: So my first company was a partnership that happened after I’d met someone who had the same idea. I was a free agent for 3-4 months after quitting my real job. I started going off as a freelancer doing anything I could to put bread on the table. I had this idea around a recurring revenue model and the digital marketing space and then technology space. Turns out, a friend of mine who was reselling my services also had a friend who had shared a very similar vision and business model with him. He said, “you guys should talk”. We both had a very similar idea, we had complementary skill sets and that’s where that first partnership really came to life.
So, in terms of business, it was my first company outside of leaving the real world. But even before that, any of the things that I’ve achieved in life happened by being able to identify the people and others who share interests and who have invested interest in seeing a company come to life and collaborating in a way where we can actually serve each other as partners. I’m so invested in a partnership model because I’ve seen it work. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do it solo. It doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to create a strong foundation or just to be able to be the one person at the top, I just don’t see it as valuable. I can do it by myself, though it’s nowhere near as fun. And so the element of being able to share that and create that environment and that experience between people for you to be able to build with. This is a very long game and depending on the kind of impact you’re wanting to make you’re going to want to have people who you can call upon as friends, as partners, as peers, as people who are invested in the same long-term vision, and you can actually work on those things together.
LL: You live more in the spirit of collaboration over competition. You could have very easily told that original person who had the same idea, you know, “I’m going to beat you to market” or “I’m going to beat you to whatever” but you saw it more as “let’s bring our skill sets together and make something bigger out of this”.
ML: Yeah, and I think there’s a place for both. There’s a place for competition. You know the fun thing is I don’t think competition has to be a bad thing. I don’t think competition has to be like “it’s me versus you” you know. What are the results or outcomes do we care about? And how are we measuring that? You can go and test yours, and I’m going to go and test mine. And there’s a world where we can actually both win here and identify whether we want to continue down those paths or not. So I’m really big into collaboration, competition and then contribution. Those are my 3 C’s.
And I think all of them are relevant in partnership. When you’re identifying a partnership, you know there’s not always going to be agreement. You’re not always going to be in flow. There will be moments of conflict. So competition is actually essential there because it’s one of the ways we can make it fun. It doesn’t have to be like “I’m going to destroy you” but it is going to be like we’re going to compete and we’re going to settle this right here and this is going to be a fun thing. I know I’ve competed multiple times in different partnerships, and both won and lost. It’s humbling and it’s exciting and it’s beautiful and when you feel victorious it’s awesome. It’s a way you can ensure the people that you’re partnering with a part of that outcome. It’s really about what’s next and how we take the next steps forward.
LL: If someone asks you about a business partnership, what are the things you talk about that you’ve learned along the way? What are your mistakes that you want other people to learn from?
ML: So there’s a couple different ways to answer that. One is the human side. What are the things that must be true from a human perspective to make it a long and sustainable partnership? I’ll answer that, and I’ll do the “what does your business partnership have to have to be sustainable”. The first thing I’m going to scream is HAVE IT WRITTEN IN CONTRACT! WRITE IT DOWN! WRITE IT DOWN!
LL: I feel like we’ve heard Kevin say those words quite a bit too!
ML: I make jokes about it, but really, there’s a – it’s a ceremonial event – it’s something that should be cherished and appreciated when you can come together and clarify the path forward. When you can come together and agree upon that shared vision of what the future does look like between two autonomous individuals, that’s a beautiful thing. I think a lot of it comes down to how organizations succeed and there are a couple things I believe need to exist.
One of them is an alignment in values. For a partnership to work there must be an alignment in values. You need to understand the way in which each other sees the world and accept that. You know, you’re going to show up with a different risk tolerance. That’s what makes you so complementary to each other. You’re going to show up with a different world view, that’s what’s going to cover the blind spots. You’re going to show up with a specific set of skills that give you the ability to accelerate the path forward. You’re going to look back on your partnership and be grateful for that. So I think the alignment in values is critical because the last thing you want to happen is to get invested in a partnership with someone that doesn’t like the world in the same way for your deal-breaking values.
The second piece is around incentives. What is it you value? What are the things that are going to serve as a motivating factor in your partnership? And how are you going to be able to reflect on what success looks like? Because incentives are different to everyone. You know, some people are just driven by dollars and that’s awesome. If you both have that in common and the team shares that in common, great. Oftentimes, I don’t see that to be the case. I mean that’s a critical piece to it and I mean money is very important and it’s an energy that actually continues the growth, but making sure that you have the same — and you don’t even have to have the same incentive structure but you need to understand your partner’s incentive structure. So if you understand the incentive that your partner values, that’s going to facilitate that long term success and that’s not just for partnership, that’s for any form of collaboration in my opinion.
The other piece is decision making. How you identify roles, responsibilities, the overall ownership of decision making is going to be a critical element to any long-standing partnership because you don’t want to have ambiguity and who’s going to own what decision which is then going to give this kind of absence of understanding. And you know, when something happens or when you feel compelled to contribute in a way, even though it’s not your role or your decision to own, there’s this internal resentment that happens that you want to let go of. And having that clarity upfront – and part of that comes from, again, that depth and connection of understanding of the other person and the other partner’s skill set and what they’re here to contribute. And it’s also part of your ability to contribute and say, if I know which decisions I own, I can actually invest time, energy, resources, into really developing and really refining the skills needed to be able to deliver on the decisions I’m making for the team as a whole.
The last one is just to be aware of boundaries. You’ve got to have those boundaries in any form of partnership to see it sustained — knowing where the lines are. And the thing about it is you don’t know where the lines are until you push them. So it’s one of the pieces we have to have an element of forgiveness in when we’re having that conversation. Like, we’re going to test our boundaries here. We’re going to set a boundary. Once we set a boundary, that’s the line and I do not cross that line. I think that’s going to be an important part for anyone who’s new in partnership.
LL: A lot of times you hear about partnerships going bad. Or you hear about two family members get into a business and then it goes bad and it’s this ugly departure of each other. What other things would you want to share with someone thinking about starting a business partnership?
ML: I think partnership is beautiful. I’d say co-creation is one of the most emphatic experiences and choices anyone could ever choose to pursue. There’s an element here to where if you look at the bad things you’re going to see the bad things if you look at the good things you’re going to see the good things. I mean, if I could share it, I’d say go try it out. There is just such a striking difference between going at the world alone and then choosing partnership. We’re a social species, we’re meant to connect, we’re meant to share, we’re meant to celebrate together, to create together. That’s a functional part of who it is and why it is to be human. So, there’s this element in terms of the closing thoughts on partnership and what it means to co-create it’s something I’d recommend everyone do at least once. For me, it’s a mindset. For me, it’s a life choice. I don’t build alone. I actually have rules. I do not build alone because I don’t believe it to be sustainable. You know, there’s a quote, if you want to go far – if you want to fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together. And I’m very much a “let’s build together” guy.